University of Calgary


UToday HomeFebruary 3, 2012

Vivian Mushahwar. Photo by Dustin DelfsVivian Mushahwar’s team developed Smart-e-Pants—custom undergarments that stimulate the backside muscles of people with spinal cord injury or stroke. Photo by Dustin DelfsNew technology designed to prevent pressure ulcers for people with spinal cord injury is being tested with five participants at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.

People with reduced mobility, confined to a bed because of illness or dependent on a wheelchair are at constant risk of developing pressure ulcers. These sores often cause infections and can lead to life-threatening complications, and even death.

After studying pressure ulcers in the lab for five years, Vivian Mushahwar, an Alberta Innovates—Health Solutions senior scholar at the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry gathered a team of experts from across Alberta—16 principal investigators from neuroscience, nano- and micro-technology, biomedical and electrical engineering, as well as rehabilitation medicine to develop methods for improving function and reducing the secondary complications associated with neural injuries and diseases.

With $5 million in funding from AIHS (including support from Alberta Health and Wellness), the team set its sights on “Sensory Motor Adaptive Rehabilitation Technology” and Smart-e-Pants—custom undergarments that stimulate the backside muscles of people with spinal cord injury or stroke—followed.

“Smart-e-Pants provide an electrical current for 10 seconds every 10 minutes, stimulating the nerves and muscles to replicate what we do when we ‘fidget’ in our chair,” says Dr. Ming Chan, a rehabilitation medicine specialist for Alberta Health Services at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton. “Our aim is to prevent pressure ulcers by bringing blood flow and oxygen to the muscles.”

Smart-e-Pants have already been successfully pilot tested with 20 participants at Edmonton’s Allen Gray Continuing Care Centre and Glenrose.

“I am thrilled to offer this option to patients at Foothills,” says Dr. Sean Dukelow, a Project SMART team member, specialist with the Calgary Stroke Program and assistant professor of clinical neurosciences in the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

“Not only are pressure ulcers a serious health problem for our patients, the healthcare costs are considerable. We estimate that pressure ulcers cost the Canadian healthcare system $3.5 billion a year.”

Funding support for Mushahwar’s team and Smart-e-Pants has come from the Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre Society (SCITCS), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Alberta Innovates—Health Solutions, Alberta Health and Wellness, the Rick Hansen Foundation, and Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus Canada.