Intelligent 'Sleeve' relieves symptoms for breast cancer patients

18 December, 2014

An innovative new device to relieve the symptoms of breast cancer-related lymphoedema is under development.

The 'Lymph Sleeve', made from intelligent fabric, gives hope to the one in three breast cancer patients who develop lymphoedema – a painful and incurable condition that causes swelling of the arm due to the build-up of lymphatic fluids.

The device is one step closer to reality after its inventors, Dr Sheridan Gho and Michael Weaver from the University of Wollongong (UOW), won a prestigious fellowship which will see them work with some of the world's foremost medical innovation experts to commercialise the prototype.

Automatic massage response

Dr Gho, from UOW's Biomechanics Research Laboratory, said lymphoedema, which can occur when lymph nodes are damaged or removed, creates significant discomfort for those already experiencing the effects of cancer.

"Lymphoedema is currently treated with manual massage, which requires the patient to visit a trained lymphatic massage therapist, and compression garments that are difficult to put on, hot in summer and can cause rashes and other skin problems," Dr Gho said.

"The Lymph Sleeve aims to help solve some of these problems. It has been developed using lightweight smart fabric that will detect swelling and then respond by 'massaging' the arm to enhance lymph flow."

Weaver, a PhD student from UOW's Centre for Medical Radiation Physics, explained the impact the device can create.

"This device has the potential to help millions of women suffering from lymphoedema around the world," he said.

"It also has the potential to help manage the symptoms of other diseases such as congenital oedema, circulatory diseases and diabetes."

Smart fabric potential

The Lymph Sleeve is just one of many real-world applications for the smart fabric that UOW researchers are developing. The fabric, made from a strong and flexible yarn that conducts and stores electricity, is already powering a world-first Bionic Bra prototype and could be used in many other wearable medical devices and smart clothes.

The Lymph Sleeve, which won a National Breast Cancer Foundation Concept Award in 2011, is a collaboration between the UOW's Biomechanics Research Laboratory, Global Challenges, the Centre for Medical Radiation Physics, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science and Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute.

The project has also been supported in the community by the Illawarra Cancer Carers Lymphoedema Support Group, and the Illawarra Lymphoedema Service, with both patients and clinicians enthusiastically sharing their experiences to help improve the device.

NSW Minister for Health and Minister for Medical Research Jillian Skinner, announced Dr Gho and Weaver the winners of the NSW-QB3 Rosenman Institute Fellowship at recent a ceremony in Sydney.

The ceremony marked the conclusion of the 12 week intensive NSW Medical Devices Commercialisation Training Program, delivered by ATP Innovations, a world-leading business incubator. Twenty of the best medical device researchers in NSW participated in the program, which aimed to close the gap between research innovations and product delivery into the market.