Student: Danny Clegg
Company: Tonus Elast
Academic Supervisor: Pete McCarthy & Andrew Heusch
How did you arrive at KESS?
I was in my final year as an undergraduate chiropractic student with an employment opportunity lined up with my brother who is an established chiropractor back in my hometown in Wigan, however during the Easter break I fell and broke my wrist, this meant I couldn’t treat my patients, for 3 months and to qualify you need to hit a specific quota before you’re allowed to register as a chiropractor in the UK. I was told that I couldn’t do my exams and would have to wait until the summer, so I wasn’t going to graduate until December of that year.
I then got a phone call the night before the exams saying that they’d found a scribe who would be able to write my exams, I managed to sit all of the exams with the scribe over three days. This KESS project became available a couple of weeks later with my undergraduate supervisor Pete McCarthy, who was my neurology and pharmacology lecturer on the chiropractic course. On his advice I applied, more for interest because I wanted to find out what the project was about. It wasn’t a project that I’d designed and had already been set up between Tonus and the university, at that point I’d never heard of KESS then I went online and had a read about what they were. The budget set up was very attractive in terms of being able to buy equipment as well as having a stipend and allowing teaching hours. The project was really attractive, so by the time I got to my interview I really wanted it, it wasn’t about curiosity anymore.
The company partner Tonus make medical garments and they wanted to look at the potential of making gloves for people with this condition.
The KESS project that I’m doing is related to Raynaud’s disease, it’s a condition that affects about 10% of the UK and indeed people worldwide, in particularly in Northern climates, colder climates. It’s a condition where you don’t get enough blood perfusion to your soft tissues in the body in particular in the hands and feet and noticeably in the fingers and toes. This condition can manifest and it can be very mild and very server. The initial part of the project was one year sampling and testing materials to find materials suitable for making gloves, which are thin to maintain dexterity while at the same time retaining heat, also stripping them down x-raying them and then producing a report and working forward from there.
We realised that the heated gloved which are available on the market now, the heating elements are not specific to the patients or persons individual needs therefore they are very diffuse across the whole of the hand and require a bit battery pack which prevents movement at the wrist, a good idea but poorly designed.
We realised that we needed more time spent on the project to design and get the gloves to the point where they are going to improve on what’s already on the market. From a patient centred approach we needed to get people in with the condition and look at how their symptoms manifest after provocation using infrared filmography. We were successful in securing funding for 2 additional years on the KESS, which then became a 3 year KESS PhD project.
The bulk of my project since then has been spent finding the right materials to create a thinner and warmer glove, which has been a success. Something that we were not anticipating was the patient centred approach, this was something that wasn’t planned at first, but has now gone off on an exponential rate, it’s an objective that we hadn’t written out in the initial plan, but its evolved as the project has evolved.
Working with the company through the PhD
The company have been involved from day one, for them it was their first collaborative project with the University, it was great that they have been very interested and hands on with the development. For me I’d never worked with a company on this sort of scale before, I’d always been an employee for somebody and before coming to university, then to suddenly I was in meetings with people who are CEO’s of companies who are profit orientated, really nice people really enthusiastic, it was an unusual experience for me and I was out of my comfort zone a lot at first. But what the experience has done for me is to push me to interact with people, now in these meetings two years late I won’t just sit there quietly and let everybody else talk and not say anything I will make sure that I am involved as well.
One part of the project that I hadn’t expected involved me going over to the parent company in Latvia. I was able to go over and meet the owners of the company, while there I was given a tour around the site where the materials are made plus I was able to see their capabilities. While there I asked if I could have some prototypes made, I explained what I was trying to do I took some materials over with me and asked if they would be able to make mit? They didn’t speak any English and I was quite worried as to what was going to come back, I was very happy when they came back with 4 prototypes in 3 hours later.
While I was there a potential distributor from Sweden was trying to ask what each product did, his English was good, but the person who was doing the demonstration didn’t have good English and a lot of what the product did was being lost. I was working in a corner and I could see that they weren’t really understanding each other, so I went over and offered to help out, I got a notepad, pen and paper and for every product I was drawing the human anatomy where the muscles attached, where the ligaments attach and showing them what the benefit is and I was doing it all by drawing and he understood everything and that was quite a good experience for me. I was able to put my undergraduate knowledge into practice and they were very thankful for that. They then asked if I would mind writing product specification for all of their products across the whole range in the company. They had all been originally written in Latvian and when the translated, there were some terrible interpretations and a lot was lost and I think they’d used Google translate, so that was a good experience as well.
Future research opportunities
To date in my own research I have been testing heat and the cold with hands as my two main methodologies, of course Raynaud’s affects people as much as if not more severely in the feet. What this means is that some of the applications that we’ve made for Raynaud’s in the gloves could be trialled in the feet. We have undergraduates now who have started some foot studies, we’ve also not really tested climate changes, so cold is fine and its constant warmth is constant what we haven’t tested is wind, rain and things like this, so I’ve started testing some weather simulators, very basic blue peter style simulators, so that’s another part of the project that could develop. It’s exciting to see that undergraduates are looking at the condition in their work, it will provide a stream leading to postgraduate work who already have an understanding of the subject area and will be able to expand on their skills and knowledge in a fledgling research area.
An exciting outcome of my research is that we have managed to secure a secondary project going with another company to work on the heating element of the gloves, so electronic specialists. Even though I wanted to do it myself, another project evolved from it. It is more feasible for other companies with other specialities and a designated student to take this work on.
The skills that I’ve picked up have been so broad to be honest, the big one for me is presenting, I never really enjoyed presenting, I was always very nervous. I’ve now presented in soo many different places; it’s becoming more and more natural including having recently been able to give lectures to people who don’t speak English! I’ve done a post-graduate certificate in research, which has taught me research methodology, so whereas before I started KESS I was told that this is a project go away and write an idea of what you are going to do with it, I now know how to build a project from the ground up, so from the idea, selecting the best type of research to do the best methodologies, so that’s a very big skill that I didn’t have before.
Initially I was working on a one year project, I wanted to do as much as possible, and I think that in my first year, I spent more time out of the office at seminars and training days than I did anything else. In-house I immediately applied for everything, every time an email came through, or when there was a new course starting I applied for it.
I’ve completed my PG cert and I’ve been trained in skills to be a mentor, to use computer software at the university.
Teaching has been a very big part of it in terms of my skills development and teaching students has been a massive part of where I feel the PSDA has helped me, if we didn’t have that, I’m not too sure I would have looked at it and thought what can I do to maximise my time here, so it was very helpful.
This year was the first translational doctoral school held in Sweden and I was fortunate enough to get a place on that trip, which was brilliant. It showed me that I’d never really appreciated that other universities do things in different ways and that the world does not end around my office and that I need to start planning ahead for the future. This has now pushed me to start travelling and attending different Universities, to start thinking forward about how I could develop a project and also what capabilities other institutes have, so I’m very much looking forward to continuing doing that over the next 7 or so months and hopefully attending another grad school before I leave, if time permits.