In this interview as part of the Early Career Innovators series, recognising the amazing translational work of postdocs and non-tenured researchers at University College London (UCL), Dr Sarah Massey highlights her Devices & Diagnostics Therapeutic Innovation Network (TIN) Pilot Data Scheme awarded project involving the use of a mobile app to manage spasticity symptoms.
Please provide an overview of your Devices and Diagnostics TIN funded project.
My project, ‘Development of a mobile application to manage spasticity in adults’, involves further developing an app which I created during my PhD.
When people have spasticity, their symptoms can be worsened by triggers such as tight clothing, changes in temperature and their posture. Using this app, people living with spasticity can log their triggers of spasticity during the day, and later review their logged data, so they can address some of the triggers that they experience.
For this project, I’m asking 5 participants to use the app at home, and measure if their spasticity changes during that period. I’ll also carry out semi-structured interviews to get some feedback on the user-friendliness and acceptance of the app into everyday life.
What is the unmet medical need of your translational project?
Spasticity is a condition where muscles stiffen or tighten abnormally and involuntarily. It is common in patients with spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis.
Anti-spasticity medication can cause significant side-effects such as drowsiness and weakness. I hope that by using this app, people can manage their symptoms of spasticity through the feedback they receive on the app, and therefore reduce their reliance on these types of medication.
Why did you want to apply to the Devices & Diagnostics TIN Pilot Data Scheme?
As I developed this app during my PhD, I wanted to make sure I that took this work further and determined whether it could be effective at reducing spasticity.
I had been finding it a little tricky to fit into the criteria for other grants, which requires applicants to have a permanent position for the funding period. This can be difficult for a post-doc! The TIN Pilot Data Scheme helped me to get some funding for independent research, which is incredibly valuable as an early career researcher.
How did you find the process for the TIN Pilot Data Scheme?
I’d previously only applied for travel grants during my PhD, so it was a challenge to get my head around writing a project grant and being interviewed by a panel about it! The ACCELERATE pitching skills training workshop was really useful as it taught me how to put across my ideas clearly and to put confidence in the panellists that I’m fully able to carry out my proposed research, so I’d really recommend going to one if you ever get the opportunity.
What do you hope to achieve in the 6 months duration of your project?
I hope that this study helps people living with spasticity to improve their self-management of the condition easily at home! I also hope to learn about running my own research independently, as the TIN PDS has provided the first opportunity to do so and straight after my PhD. I eventually want to start applying for fellowships but need a little more experience under my belt, so I’m working towards that!
What are your next steps from now?
I’m currently making some of the final improvements to the app before we use it in the research studies, as well as starting the recruitment process. I’m looking forward to getting the data collection period started!
About Dr Sarah Massey
Sarah is a research fellow in the department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering. She completed her PhD in September 2021, which studied the effects of electrical stimulation on spasticity, a neurological condition which can cause involuntary muscle contractions, affecting those with spinal cord injuries and stroke.