I am always interested in any new research which is working to find a cure or treatment for lymphedema. This is an interesting article which moves in a totally different direction to create a type of massage sleeve and maybe in the future a stocking.. Thanks to the University of Wollongong NSW Australia.
News in Science ABC
Artificial muscles to ease lymphoedema
Monday, 6 May 2013
By Dani Cooper
University of Wollongong
Sleeves of material woven from artificial muscles that massage the arm to combat lymphoedema in breast cancer patients are nearing a trial phase.The design concepts are one of the promising developments to emerge from the University of Wollongong’s research into artificial muscles.It is hoped the so-called lymph sleeve will help the third of breast cancer patients that develop lymphoedema or swelling of the arm.
Professor Julie Steele, at Wollongong’s Biomechanic Research Laboratory, says the team is now working through the ethics process ahead of starting trials.
“At the moment we are working through a number of concepts and how to make it wearable,” she says.”We will be trialling initial concepts on people [but] we still have a long way to go.”
The work, funded by the National Breast Cancer Foundation, aims to relieve lympoedema symptoms in breast cancer patients. Lymphoedema is the build-up of lymphatic fluids in the arms and legs that can lead to swelling, heaviness, pain and discomfort. It is incurable but can be treated through a range of therapies such as massage, laser, medication and pneumatic pumps.
Steele says the work still needs to better understand how current treatments relieve lymphoedema, such as exactly how much force is applied to the arm during massage.The benefit of the sleeve is that it will be portable, says Steele, adding that current therapies available for lymphoedema cannot be carried around. “In some cases you have a huge hydraulic machine where you have to be stuck to a power point,” she says.
Colleague Dr Bridget Munro says lymphoedema is a side-effect of breast cancer treatments such as mastectomy so people with the condition are already dealing with body image issues from their treatment.”These patients are already very conscious of their bodies, so we want to develop something that is not visible and they can wear.”
Steele and Munro have been collaborating with Professor Geoff Spinks and his team at the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute. Spinks says the innovative material fibres contain a nano-scale “motor” that can be activated through heat or an electrochemical reaction.
“It all comes down to getting pressure in the sleeve and that has to come from some mechanically active part,” says Spinks.”The advance we want to exploit is based on fibre materials that can contract … it is still to be established yet whether we can take individual fibres and weave them into fabric that will look and feel like normal fabric, but some of those fibres will contract.”
Until recently, one of the bottlenecks in utilising the technology has been in making enough fibres to weave into material, says Spinks. However, the team have produced small swatches of fabric and are confident they can produce larger pieces.