PRESSURE sores are a major healthcare problem with potentially serious medical consequences for patients. They are also a massive drain on NHS resources. Now, a research project at the University of Huddersfield aims to develop a method for enabling manufactures of medical devices to reduce the risk that that their products could cause ulcerations because of contact with skin.
Dr Leigh Fleming (pictured), an engineer with a speciality in healthcare research, is supervising Hong Kong-raised Isaac Leung, who has been awarded funding as part of a new scheme that means he is part of a network of bioscience and health researchers at enterprising universities around the UK.
This is the recently-launched Doctoral Training Alliance (DTA), an initiative of University Alliance, the organisation that unites UK universities that share a mission to provide high-quality teaching and research with real-world impact. Applied Biosciences for Health is the first area covered by the scheme and 13 universities are offering fully-funded postgraduate programmes. There are two inaugural DTA projects at the University of Huddersfield, both supervised by members of its inter-disciplinary Institute of Skin Integrity and Infection Prevention.
Dr Fleming explained the research she is supervising will carry out computational modelling of human skin with a view to learning more about how pressure ulcers form when patients’ skin comes into contact not only with textiles – such as hospital bedsheets – but also with medical devices, such as nasal cannulas.
Pressure sores or ulcers vary widely, but at their worst they can have deeply serious consequences. NHS estimates show that almost half a million people in the UK will develop at least one pressure ulcer a year, with people over 70 particularly vulnerable. The sores are also becoming a significant cause of litigation.
As he embarks on his project, Isaac Leung (pictured) will use the computerised technique of Finite Element Analysis for predicting how skin reacts to medical devices and forces.
“The goal is to provide a tool so that manufacturers will be able to predict the effect of their devices on pressure care and also to determine how skin condition might contribute to the onset of pressure ulcers,” said Dr Fleming.
She earmarked Isaac as a potential doctoral researcher at an early stage of his studies for a University of Huddersfield Bachelor of Engineering degree. Interested in healthcare research, his final-year project dealt with engineering aspects of replacement hip joints. When he scored First Class Honours, he was able move directly to the Doctoral Training Alliance Project, harnessing knowledge he has already acquired in fields such as surface metrology.
Isaac was raised in Hong Kong, but born in Huddersfield, where his father William Leung was a doctoral student at the University two decades ago, specialising in optical electronics. Since then, he has worked in higher, further and vocational education in Hong Kong. Isaac too aims for a career in academic research.
As a member of the first Doctoral Training Alliance cohort, he has already attended one UK gathering of his colleagues on the scheme.
The University of Huddersfield