Summary

Background:

Patients with the spinal condition axSpA suffer from neck pain and stiffness and over time their mobility can become severely and permanently restricted. Patients are usually advised to carry out frequent exercises to maintain mobility, but most patients do not carry out these exercises regularly. Performance of stretching exercises regularly at home is difficult to maintain in the long term, and patients often do not find this a natural way to move their head. In everyday situations, neck movement usually takes place in response to visual or auditory stimuli and the person is not conscious of having to perform a specific neck movement.

Doctors and physiotherapists who care for patients with axSpA try to monitor their patients’ spinal mobility using traditional goniometry – which is only used to test cervical rotation. Even in the best clinical centres these tests are only carried out once or twice a year by trained health professionals. The problem is that spinal mobility and symptoms of pain and stiffness in axSpA can fluctuate greatly between appointments. There is a need to find a way for patient to measure their spinal mobility accurately at home.

Context:

It has been shown that Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) sensors can be used to accurately measure cervical movement. However, this technology is still expensive and an attractive alternative is to use the IMU sensors embedded in most modern smartphones. When smartphones are clipped into a VR headset, the patient can watch a VR simulation, listen to music/instructions, and move their head in response to visual or auditory cues. Such a system is likely to be more affordable and usable long-term. One previous study by Sarig-Bahat et al (2010) has documented acceptable accuracy and reliability of a bespoke VR system in healthy individuals without neck pain.

In this study we will test whether or not a smartphone enabled system will be feasible in measuring cervical movement in patients with axSpA. Virtual Reality systems have been developed to aid relaxation and pain relief through mindfulness. If it is possible to simulate a relaxing scene and invite the participant to slowly and deliberately explore the scene it may be possible to achieve both meditation and exercises in a relaxed state. Relaxation techniques such as Yoga and Tai Chi have combined relaxation with exercise successfully for many years. If this development proved successful, patients with axSpA would be able to use their own smartphones with a cheap headset to perform daily exercises which would help to ease pain and anxiety and potentially improve their range of movement.

Impact:

The clear focus of this proposal is to sustain communities through progress in healthcare using intelligent technologies.  Hence this PhD proposal aligns to Ulster’s 5&50 strategic research themes.  The project has significant potential for impact.  This project also has long-term potential to be developed out with regional SMEs to further create new technologies for healthcare support.


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 70%
  • For VCRS Awards, Masters at 75%
  • Publications - peer-reviewed

    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

    Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

    Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,500 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

    Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,285 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies



The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

Profile picture of Adrian Johnston

As Senior Engineering Manager of Analytics at Seagate Technology I utilise the learning from my PhD ever day

Adrian Johnston - PhD in Informatics

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Profile picture of Xin Wei

I received the bachelor’s of engineering degree in computer science and technology from Shangrao Normal University, Jiangxi, China, in 2013; and the master’s degree in computer application and technology from the School of Mathematics and Computer Science, Fujian Normal University, China. When I was pursuing a PhD degree at Ulster University, I continued my research on face recognition and image representation.This long journey has only been possible due to the constant support and encouragement of my first supervisor. I also like to thank my second supervisor for his patience, support and guidance during my research studies. My favourite memory was the days of exercising, gathering and playing with my friends here. If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be "submit more papers to Journals instead of conferences".

Xin Wei - PhD in Computer Science and Informatics


Profile picture of Jyotsna Talreja Wassan

In the whole PhD ordeal, my supervisory team played a tremendous role:- they are three in a million. They are perfect supervisors who perfectly know which milestones or pathways to be taken during research initiatives, and they understand the roles of virtually all stages in the journey of PhD. They showcased superior abilities in managing and motivating me evoking high standards; demonstrating a commitment to excellence. Jane and Haiying guided me as their daughter and Fiona turned out to be the best of friends.I heard from “Eleanor Roosevelt” that “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” The dream with which I grew up to become a Doctor one day, has finally come true. In the journey of PhD, I embraced that a PhD is not just the highest degree in Education but rather it is a life experience where perseverance is the key. I can never forget words from my external examiner Prof Yike Guo, from Imperial College London. His words

Jyotsna Talreja Wassan - PhD in Computer Science and Informatics