Researchers at NUI Galway were recently awarded a Wounds UK Award for a new Electronic medical technique which aims to assist in the restoration of sensory function lost, due to aging and disease, particularly due to diabetes. The Wounds UK awards recognise the outstanding achievements of those in who are improving standards in wound prevention and management, through research, clinical audit and practice development.
The NUI Galway team, who presented at the 2010 Annual Wounds UK Conference, observed that lost sensation in the feet, which is known to lead to loss of balance, foot ulceration and ultimately to amputation, may be partially restored by applying low voltage electrical noise to the affected nerves, through the skin, via electrodes. The new technique relies on the principle that the nervous system is in fact an electrically noisy transmission system. The team found that applying a noisy electrical signal to the affected nerves, resulted in the enhancement of the associated nerve signals and their transmission.
If the transmission characteristics of nerve signals can be enhanced through the use of a wearable electrical device, then there is the potential to treat a wide range of medical conditions.
Currently there is no treatment available to restore neural function lost due to aging and diabetes. With the current dramatic rise in both of these populations, the need for such treatments is greater than ever.
This work, funded by the Health Research Board, brings together a multidisciplinary research team including: Dr Paul Breen and Professor Gearóid Ó Laighin, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, NUI Galway; Dr Caroline McIntosh, Podiatry, NUI Galway; Dr Sean Dinneen, Diabetes and Endocrinology, University Hospital Galway and the School of Medicine, NUI Galway; Dr Leo Quinlan, Physiology, NUI Galway; and Professor Jorge Serrador, Department of Veterans Affairs, New Jersey and Neurology, Harvard Medical School.
The researchers believe this may only be the starting point for this research. According to Dr Paul Breen, Electrical and Electronic Engineering at NUI Galway: “What is really exciting is that, while we have shown this to have an effect on the lower limb, theoretically it should work on any nerve. Potentially we could build a whole range of devices for a variety of neural problems.”
Professor Gearóid Ó Laighin, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, NUI Galway, said: “This work which is funded by the HRB and which was facilitated by an SFI Walton Fellowship, shows the potential for producing highly innovative, medical solutions, when a team of researchers from such diverse disciplines as Engineering, Medicine, Podiatry and Physiology, pool their expertise to solve complex medical problems.”