Significant funding award for Virtual Reality Prosthetics Training System

Ivan Phelan and a multi-disciplinary team learned recently that their application for a NIHR i4i grant some time ago has been successful. The grant for £445,000 is to develop and evaluate a Virtual Reality Prosthetics Training System following on from the pilot work which has since become the basis for the team’s public engagement (via a Wellcome Trust project). The 30 month project is planned to commence in October 2017 and will be led by Dr Ramesh Munjal at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, and at Sheffield Hallam University by Ivan Phelan and managed by Shirley Lindley.

This project will train 32 upper arm amputees/ limb deficient patients across 3 NHS sites (Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham) to use a myoelectric arm using a new Virtual Reality system which simulates a real-world environment, improving actual outcomes. The current system uses Ottobock’s MyoBoy for assessing patients for fitting a myo-electric prosthetic, and is a functional tool that maps patients’ muscle activity in a graph on a screen.

Typically, between 5-10 sessions of 1-1½ hours are needed to train patients. Many patients struggle with operating the prosthetic correctly even after the training. We anticipate the proposed VR training system will increase acceptance rates of the new physical prosthetic limb and reduce the amount of time taken (to around 4-6 hours of clinic time) to learn the skill of manipulating the prosthetic arm and hand. As the cost of technology drops, it will become more affordable as a standard treatment.

Further developments could adapt the system to suit the training needs of a range of other debilitating conditions and rehabilitation programmes, for example stroke patients, others needing long-term physiotherapy and for pain management, and potentially for children.