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Our Focus

Our research focuses upon health technologies and health practices for patients in the areas of clinical sciences, diagnostic radiography, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, podiatry, and speech and language, therapeutic radiography and oncology. We investigate interventions to manage and maintain health in long-term physical problems.

This is achieved through the conduct of high quality strategic, experimental and applied research, using the Medical research Council framework for complex interventions and incorporating quantitative and qualitative methods, as appropriate.

Our research is able to make significant impact given its broad reach across all settings in health care. Our research improves health and wellbeing and directly impacts health practices and policies.

Our activities are primarily concerned with the use of technologies and physical interventions tailored to suit the needs of individual groups e.g. those living with chronic musculoskeletal conditions, back pain, stroke, multiple sclerosis, respiratory disease. Other research is focused around healthcare practice education for health care professionals. We have three main research strands:

1) Technologies for enablement

Members have secured substantial funding for research that includes the development, use and testing of technologies for self-management in several specific populations e.g. those living with chronic musculoskeletal conditions, back pain, stroke, respiratory disease.


  • A randomised controlled trial of Mirror Box Therapy in upper limb rehabilitation with sub-acute stroke patients (REfLECTS)

    REfLECTS (A Randomised Controlled Trial of Mirror Box Therapy in Upper Limb Rehabilitation with Sub Acute Stroke Patients) is a multi-centre study based throughout Ireland; investigating the use of mirror box therapy (MBT) in upper limb rehabilitation, with a sub-acute post-stroke population (0-3 months).

    The study has been developed and implemented by a team of cross-border occupational therapists who are highly skilled senior therapists in the field of stroke rehabilitation. REfLECTS is funded through the Cross-border Healthcare Interventions Trials in Ireland Network (CHITIN), a project supported by the European Union's INTERREG VA programme, managed by the Special EU Programme Body (SEUPB).

  • The development of a smartphone app to aid with EEG interpretations (ANALYSE ECG Reporting)

    Technological advances of cardiac signal acquisition have resulted in the ECG evolving as the most commonly used diagnostic for patients presenting with cardiac complaints. Within a medical training programme, a doctor should competently interpret an ECG recording for signs of heart disease, however it has been reported in studies evaluating ECG competency, that up to 33% of ECG interpretations contain significant errors which could lead to patient fatality.

    The project at Ulster University (led by Dr. Breen) resulted in the creation of a smartphone app, to aid with ECG interpretation, therefore increasing competency in evaluating ECG readings.

    To date, the ANALYSE ECG reporting app funded by Invest NI has had over 50,000 downloads and is now integrated into education and teaching programmes within institutions in Ireland, UK, Europe, USA, the Philippines and Pakistan.

    Download the app

2) Physical Activity for health, and rehabilitation

Our researchers are leading the development, use and evaluation of physical activity and rehabilitation interventions tailored to suit the needs of individual groups e.g. those living with chronic musculoskeletal conditions, back pain, stroke, respiratory disease. Working across disciplines members have secured substantial funding for research that impacts global health and clinical practice.


  • Exercise referral schemes to prevent sedentary behaviour (SITLESS) 

    This study assessed how combining an exercise programme with additional sessions to encourage active lifestyles could influence sitting time, physical activity and physical function in older adults (aged 65 years and over).

    SITLESS is an EU-funded Horizon 2020 study involving 1360 participants from Spain, Germany, Denmark and Northern Ireland.

    For more information visit

  • Self-management and theory-based rehabilitation encouraging new gateways to healthy hearts (STRENGTH)

    Funded by Heart Research UK, the aim of the STRENGTH study (Self-management and Theory-based Rehabilitation Encouraging New Gateways To Healthy Hearts) is to research how behaviour change helps in cardiac rehabilitation services.

    Guidelines recommend that coronary heart disease (CHD) patients should be offered cardiac rehabilitation (CR). CR programmes reduce the risk of death and illness, but it is likely that patients will stop exercising without enough support. This project will see whether behaviour change can encourage CHD patients taking part in community-based CR programmes to stay active for longer.

    For more information visit:

  • Physical Activity Intervention in COPD (LIVELY) 

    This project funded by Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association is creating alternative opportunities to promote exercise and increase levels of physical activity in people with COPD is hugely important due to the associated health benefits.

    LIVELY represents a method to promote increased physical activity for people with COPD using a clinician facilitated home based walking programme. This physical activity intervention is a 12-week clinician facilitated pedometer driven walking programme.

    Read more about the LIVELY project

3) Healthcare practice and education

Research is focused around healthcare practice, education for health care professionals and developing and testing tools that health care practitioners can use to assess and improve patient outcomes.


  • Skill gaps among radiographers in Europe (SAFE EUROPE)

    It is estimated that 52.3% of cancer cases would require radiotherapy at one point during their treatment. Therefore, therapy radiographers have a key role to play in health care provision and it is important that their skills keep up with new findings and technology upgrades.

    A common regulation for therapy radiography does not exist in the EU.

    In this study, funded by European Commission Erasmus+ Sector Skills Alliance, we aim to investigate and identify the gaps between the skills required by therapy radiographers to perform their duties versus current educational training available. In particular, the project will focus on the training required for the delivery of radiation to patients suffering from malignant diseases (cancers able to spread to other organs).

    Read more information on SAFE EUROPE

  • Assessing the perception of their understanding, confidence and use of self-management skills among patients with COPD (Understanding CCOPD (UCOPD)

    A knowledge and self-efficacy questionnaire for COPD.

    The UCOPD questionnaire funded by Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association is an 18-item, COPD-specific questionnaire that is designed to assess the patient’s perception of their understanding, confidence, and use of key self-management skills. It also has a short section which assesses the patient’s satisfaction with the education component of pulmonary rehabilitation. The UCOPD questionnaire can be completed in less than 10 minutes.

    Read more about the UCOPD questionnaire

The high standard of our research output is also aided by a number of successful collaborations with local, national and international centres of excellence.

In this section


Physical Activity Intervention

Understanding COPD Questionnaire

UCOPD Questionnaire, manual and administration.