A MEDICAL engineer from Gloucestershire who was paralysed as a teenager is hoping his pioneering invention will help improve the quality of life for thousands of others like him.
Sean Doherty was just 18 when he broke his neck in a mountain bike accident.
Since then he has lived with Tetraplegia, which means he is disabled and has limited hand and arm function.
The former University of Cardiff student, whose parents are from Belfast and Tipperary, is currently based in London working at the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore.
The research scientist has been awarded £65,000 this week through the INSPIRE Foundation towards his project, which aims to improve the quality of life and independence of people with spinal cord injuries.
“Following my injury I was just keen to get on with what I’d been doing before it,” he said. “I wanted to be an inventor when I was young – all inventors are just trying to solve problems.
“I think having my injury has directed that ambition towards problems I have seen since.”
Along with his co-research scientists Dr Sarah Knight and Dr Anne Vanhoestenberghe, Sean is leading the NEUROMOD project.
The hope is to develop a wearable device to control bladder and bowel function as an alternative to pharmaceutical therapies.
“Our research is exploring the use of electrical stimulation to artificially restore bladder control following injury to the spinal cord, whereafter voluntary control is often lost,” Sean explained.
“We are currently focusing on how to translate this technique into clinical use. As a medical engineer I am working with the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and University College London research teams to develop devices and trial the technique with patients.”
Although the inability to walk is often assumed to be the most challenging consequence of spinal cord injuries, the loss of control of bladder and bowel can be the most difficult to manage, having detrimental effects on health, welfare and quality of life.
The INSPIRE funds were donated by the Masonic Charitable Foundation – a grant-making charity funded by Freemasons and their families.
“This is allowing me to spend three years working on the project including the important costs for running trials and engineering development,” said Sean who is planning to visit family in Tipperary this summer.
“More importantly it is allowing progress towards better solutions to manage the profoundly personal problems, such as incontinence, experienced by many following neurological injury.”
The INSPIRE Foundation, a charity that focuses on spinal cord injuries, is currently researching five projects – two in London, one in Glasgow and others in Bournemouth and Southampton.
Foundation Director Rory Steevenson said: “One of my biggest worries with our research programme is whether or not we can afford to run projects as we receive no Government funding.
“The Masonic Charitable Foundation grant has covered the remaining cost of NEUROMOD and will guarantee it can continue to full term. This is the best possible news and we are so grateful.”
By Siobhan Breatnach