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Insight@DCU researchers to develop exercise technology in fight against heart disease

Researchers at Insight and Dublin City University’s School of Health & Human Performance are leading a €5m research project which aims to improve the rehabilitation experience of patients recovering from Cardio-Vascular Disease (CVD), the leading cause of premature death and disability in Europe and worldwide which costs the EU economy almost €196 billion every year.  

Currently, CVD patients are referred to community-based programmes which often have very low levels of uptake (about 11%) and even higher rates of patient drop-out.  Reasons cited for this include long travel times, being overwhelmed by large groups, perceived poor body image and lack of confidence to complete the exercises.

The PATHway (Physical Activity Towards Health) project will develop Connected Health technologies to create personalised rehabilitation programmes for patients, allowing them to remotely take part in exercise sessions in the privacy of their own homes, receive immediate feedback and, more generally, adopt a healthier lifestyle.  Instruction and advice will be provided by an online avatar and user feedback can be recorded through the use of sensors placed on the patient as they perform their exercises.  The technology will ultimately enable the patient to develop, in conjunction with his or her avatar, a comprehensive lifestyle intervention programme to include physical activity, smoking, diet, stress management, alcohol use and medication compliance.

The project was launched by Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation, Damien English T.D. who said,

“I congratulate DCU, Dr Kieran Moran and the project partners for their success in winning EU funding, via Horizon 2020, for this important project.  The PATHway project has the potential to create real, positive benefits for the quality of life of people with cardiovascular disease."  

Dr Kieran Moran of Insight and DCU’s School of Health & Human Performance who is co-ordinating the project explained,

“While everyone is aware of the well proven life-enhancing and life-extending benefits from physical activity and exercise for Cardiac Rehabilitation, uptake and adherence is extremely poor. There are many barriers to participation in community-based programmes, including: no nearby medically appropriate programmes, travel time, scheduling issues, lack of peer mentoring, low self-confidence related perceived poor exercise technique and perceived poor ‘body image’. We have put together an internationally renowned group of experts from the fields of behavioural change, cardiac rehabilitation, exercise science, health economics, technology and games development to develop the PATHway platform to help people better self-manage their health, change their inappropriate lifestyle behaviours, and most importantly, increase their levels of exercise and physical activity”.

Funding for the project was received through the EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme.  European partners include the Mater Hospital, the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas (Greece), Ulster University, University of Glasgow, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), Electronic Record Services BV (Netherlands), Nurogames GmbH (Germany), and Engineering IT (Italy).

The announcement of this new research project is a significant milestone in a new cross-border partnership between DCU and the University of Ulster which will develop joint research and teaching initiatives over the coming years.  Professor Hugh McKenna, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research at Ulster University said,

“The PATHway project is significant for two reasons: it is pioneering global advances in cardiovascular focused technology; and it is evidence of Ulster University's continued partnership with DCU. Over 20 years, this partnership has supported and stimulated cross border collaboration and has delivered wide-ranging, positive impact across a number of core areas.

PATHway is a world-leading project which will deliver benefits to patients and healthcare providers globally by significantly improving the rate and speed of patient recovery, saving lives and securing vast cost savings for health service providers. It is precisely the type of project that proves the importance of investment in university research as it as it ensures a wealth of knowledge and innovation can be harnessed and shared.