leading the development of new assistive technologies leading the development of new assistive technologies

UEA joined the Design Council’s prestigious Design Leadership Programme to develop a pioneering new device to help stroke survivors walk again.

The challenge

In the UK alone, 1.2 million people are living with the devastating effects of strokes. The ability to walk independently after having a stroke is both a national and global health challenge. Patients are often too weak to practise as much as they need to restore their ability to walk again. In addition, people are discharged from hospital sooner than ever before, increasing the need for intensive rehabilitation units and exercise centres in both hospitals and their homes.

During her PhD research, Dr Nicola Hancock made an important breakthrough; Upright pedalling on a prototype exercise device could enable people to practise walking even if they were still very weak soon after a stroke. Dr Hancock tested the idea while working with Professor Valerie Pomeroy, co-chair of the Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Alliance (ABIRA). They produced promising early results but their prototype needed to be refined and developed.

The partnership

To progress their scientific insights, the team applied for a place on the UK Design Council’s Design Leadership Programme. This prestigious programme is aimed at helping businesses, universities and the public sector to implement technical designs for innovation and growth. Winning a place would enable the team to work with design specialists to capture their developing concepts for the upright pedalling device.

The work

After securing their place on the Design Leadership Programme, the team, which includes Dr Niamh Kennedy, Lecturer in Rehabilitation Neuroscience, and Dr Celia Clarke, Lecturer in Movement Neurophysiology, were awarded £15,000 from the UEA Proof of Concept fund. With support from the Design Council’s industrial design expert Ian Ferris, they worked with design agency LA Design to capture the ideas of scientists and rehabilitation experts and create a visualisation of the innovative new device, which they called UPED. This visualisation enabled them to apply for and win a £42,000 grant from Norwich Research Park Translational Fund to build the next stage prototype.

The results

The team are now poised to take the UPED project to the next level. They are collaborating with service leads, service users, clinicians and NHS commissioners to create the next prototypes, following a user-centred design process. They will then apply for a major research grant to test the prototypes, and seek private innovation and industrial partners to manufacture of an end product which has the potential to change the lives of countless stroke survivors.

Dr Nicola Hancock said:
‘Working with the team at the Design Council has been inspirational. Thanks to their mentoring, in under two years we will have gone from initial concept capture to inviting in industrial partners for potential collaboration and manufacture. It has been great to work with expert designers and engineers and hear them say, “This is a great idea”. Our potential impact here is considerable.’