Centre to revolutionise rehabilitation technology for stroke survivors and other disabling conditions

Man running on machine

A cutting-edge centre to develop innovations in rehabilitation technology for those recovering from strokes and other debilitating illnesses is being launched at the University of Strathclyde following an award of almost half a million pounds. 

The Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust has awarded the University’s Biomedical Rehabilitation Engineering Research Group a grant of £449,000 to set up the ‘Sir Jules Thorn Centre for Co-Creation of Rehabilitation Technology’. 

Support recovery

The specialist facility will test and develop new technologies for use both at home and in leisure centres to support individuals in their recovery, with the initial focus on strokes. They will be co-created with clinicians, while recovering patients will be recruited to test out the innovations and feedback their views.  

The technology will be combined with artificial intelligence and machine learning methods used in computer gaming, to produce tailored exercise programmes which can be instructed by the systems themselves.  

According to The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence there are more than 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK, with two thirds leaving hospital with a disability, which leads to an estimated cost of £26 billion a year. Survival rates have improved and the national focus is now on how stroke can be prevented, treated quickly, and how people can be supported after a stroke.  

Accessible technology

As well as using existing equipment to treat people and establish the concept that stroke survivors can rehabilitate themselves given the right technology and support, the team will also learn from and improve the technology so they can modify it and make it cheaper and more accessible. 

Existing facilities which have the capability to deliver these approaches are largely specialist research centres not generally available to the wider public and which usually focus only on one element of rehabilitation.  

Strathclyde Biomedical Engineers Professor Philip Rowe and Dr Andrew Kerr, who is also a physiotherapist, will co-lead the Centre and Professor Rowe said: “The funding will allow us to create an environment for rehabilitation innovation that will welcome hundreds of users for significantly increased, ongoing, meaningful engagement in self-directed rehabilitation. 

“We have the capability and expertise to develop and simplify advanced rehabilitation technology so that it is accessible for the whole user community, including older adults and will put users at the centre of their own rehabilitation.

The ambition is for our centre to produce the technology that will help support these people in their own rehabilitation. There is huge potential for industry, research and education and the leisure industry and we are designing this equipment with them in mind.” 

The Centre, which will be hosted in the University’s Wolfson Building which is undergoing a £15.5 million investment, is due to be launched later this Spring, once COVID-19 restrictions have lifted.

There will be an initial focus on stroke rehabilitation, but with ambitions to cut across all physical rehabilitation for other disabling conditions.    

Holistic approach

Dr Kerr said: “More people are living after their stroke than ever but the issue is they can be left with a disability. Some are obvious like a balance or walking problem, but often it’s cognitive or a fatigue, so it’s hidden. 

“As well as researching physical rehabilitation with walking and standing balance, we will take a more holistic approach and also focus on cognitive issues like speech and language. 

“Increasingly the long-term management of conditions like strokes is the responsibility of the individual, but our position is that people don’t have the resource to do this. How do you retrain walking if you need supervision, or retrain your arm if you can’t even lift it up on your own? 

“Our centre will produce technology which will support people in their own rehabilitation. Our long-term ambition is the centre will act as a demonstration site to drive innovation and inspire adoption of a new rehabilitation model. “ 

Richard Benson, the Director of the Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust, said: “The Trust’s priorities are to support outstanding research and the development of new care models for people living with disabilities. We are therefore delighted to support the Centre, which builds on Strathclyde’s position as a leader in rehabilitation science and biomedical engineering. The Centre is truly innovative and has the potential to deliver transformational, practical support for people recovering from stroke or living with other debilitating illnesses”.

The Strathclyde biomedical engineering rehabilitation group has been developing and researching world leading rehabilitation technology and clinical interventions related to disability for almost six decades and was appointed a Centre of Excellence in Rehabilitation Research by the Scottish Government in 2014.