Researcher awarded sensor equipment for tetanus study in Vietnam

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A Strathclyde biomedical engineer has been awarded vital research medical equipment to carry out a study into tetanus in Vietnam.

As a winner of the De Luca Foundation’s Covid-19 Donation Initiative, Dr Alejandra Aranceta-Garza is one of just five researchers worldwide chosen to receive Electromyography (EMG) equipment worth around £5,500 from the Foundation and the Delsys Donation Initiative.

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The postdoctoral researcher will use the specialist two-sensor system, which assesses muscle movement and the nerve cells that control them, in a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

Tetanus is a serious but rare condition caused by bacteria getting into a wound. The bacterial toxin affects the nervous system, leading to painful muscle contractions, particularly of jaw and neck muscles, and can interfere with breathing and be life threatening. 

Continuing concern

Although there are only a handful of cases reported annually in the UK thanks to an effective childhood vaccination programme, it is a continuing concern in many low- and middle-income countries like Vietnam, where it is still a significant health problem.

Dr Aranceta-Garza said: “It is a tremendous honour to be the 2020 recipient of the Delsys prize and be recognised by the De Luca Foundation for my clinical research proposal. 

“I’m delighted to receive the equipment, which is an EMG system which will help monitor how the patients are moving – how their muscles are reacting and how much drugs are needed.

“Patients with tetanus can’t actually be treated, you can just manage the symptoms with muscle relaxants because it makes the muscles spasm. Patients can’t move, and it can affect their breathing and their heart. 

“Little is known into how much and for how long the muscle relaxants must be prescribed and the study aims to gather preliminary data to understand the muscle behaviour and muscle spasm movement during hospital stay, to understand how they respond to the treatment.

“It will allow clinicians to get an overview of what is happening in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) through understanding the peripheral nervous system - the parts of the nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord, like muscles.

“Monitoring the muscle output gives an added piece of the puzzle as the treatment is guesswork.”

Clinical trial

The researcher, who has been to Vietnam twice before and carried out an earlier project into Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, will begin the study as soon as she’s able.

 She added: “I hope the initial project will eventually lead to a longer clinical trial in collaboration with the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam.”

 The De Luca Foundation (DLF) is a private charitable organization which helps the Biomechanics Research Community through initiatives such as Research & Development grants.