Published on: 24th November 2023

The IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) Excellence Awards shine a spotlight on groundbreaking innovations in engineering, science and technology. 

The University College London (UCL) and RNOH team were finalists in two award categories, the Health Technology Award, and the Emerging Technology of the Year Award – the latter of which they won.  

The award recognises the ema's work - headed by Professor Rui Loureiro and Dr Peter Snow in using virtual reality and robotics as a potential treatment for neuropathic pain. The team have recently completed their first in-human clinical feasibility studies, focusing on patients experiencing phantom limb pain following an amputation, patients with spinal cord injuries, and patients with upper limb nerve damage who may be at risk of needing an amputation. 

Phantom limb pain is the perception of pain in a limb which is no longer there. The symptoms can range from mild to severe constant pain, while the underlying causes are not well understood. It is estimated that nearly 80% of people with an amputation experience phantom limb pain. 

The team have developed a system called UCL TouchRehab which uses virtual reality and sensory feedback to let users see a surrogate of their missing arm. Users can control and feel the virtual limb as they interact with other virtual objects, which has been shown to have an effect on pain reduction.  

The researchers conducted a clinical feasibility survey on two groups of patients with phantom limb syndrome – one group used the system with sensory feedback, and the other group didn’t. Those who experienced sensory feedback reported more effective pain reduction. Patients who have used the UCL TouchRehab system have also reported improved mood and wellbeing, and better-quality sleep. 

For the next steps, the team are recruiting patients with spinal cord injuries and upper limb nerve damage to take part in clinical studies and have already begun a new study looking at shoulder pain. They plan to continue their work to integrate the system into the NHS as a service for pain management. 

Rui said: “The results so far are very encouraging. As we move onto longer-term studies, we will be looking at optimising the interventions for integration at the point of care and making the technology affordable enough to be used in people’s homes.” 

On winning the award, Peter said: “We were initially surprised to even be finalists for two awards, so to win the Emerging Technology of the Year award is amazing. 

The work couldn’t have been achieved without the support of our various funders and clinical collaborators; however, it’s the participants to whom we are most thankful. Many thanks to everyone we have worked with so far, and we look forward to working with many more in the future as we advance the work”.  

This project is a collaboration between RNOH and UCL. The work was supported by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the RNOH Charity, RNOH Trust, Wellcome Trust and the UCL/UCLH NIHR Biomedical Research Centre.










Professor Rui Loureiro (second from left) and Dr Peter Snow (centre) receiving their award at the IET ceremony. (Image credit IET)

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