Amputees who suffer from phantom limb pain could have their suffering eased thanks to a new device being pioneered by researchers at Teesside University.
Researchers at the university are working with start-up Teesside healthcare innovation company 2PD to develop and launch a sensory discrimination training device which can be self-administered by patients to help overcome the condition.
Phantom limb pain is where people who have undergone amputation experience sensations that seem to be coming from the amputated limb.
It is a relatively common condition and while symptoms can vary, in some cases it can be severely debilitating for the patient.
One treatment for phantom limb pain is sensory discrimination training whereby patients receive stimuli to various parts of their body from electrodes and have to discriminate where the sensations are coming from.
This has been shown to help the brain re-wire its mental map, or blueprint, of the amputated limb, which is associated with a reduction in the phantom pain. However, it can be a lengthy and costly process involving several sessions administered by medical or rehabilitation professionals.
Working directly with the company directors and key management personal, researchers at Teesside University have entered into a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to bring a device to market which automates the process, meaning that a patient can self-administer the training.
KTPs typically last for two to three years and are a collaboration between a University and a company. They are part-funded by Innovate UK to help businesses embed innovations and improve productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills being generated in UK universities.
Over the course of the KTP, the Teesside University team and inventors Professor Denis Martin and Dr Cormac Ryan will carry out clinical evaluations and trials on the patent applied for device, before ultimately launching a device that is ready to be used on the open market.
A KTP Associate, Sarah Oatway, a Teesside University BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy graduate, has also been appointed to assist with the research.
Dr Ryan said: “Sensory discrimination training can be very effective at realigning the brain’s blueprint of the body.
“However, the amount of clinical time that it takes up makes it a huge barrier to treatment. By developing something that can be self-administered we can make it a much more feasible proposition.
“At the end of the KTP we will have developed a product that has the potential to make a real impact on the quality of life for people who have undergone amputation surgery.”