Researchers at Aarhus University have developed electronic support stockings and tested them on bedridden Covid patients at the university clinics in Copenhagen. The results show that the stockings counteract a significant loss of muscle mass.

A research group at Aarhus University has developed a special biocompatible electrode for electrical muscle stimulation, which the group integrated and 3D printed on medical support stockings.

In the winter of 2020/2021, the stockings were tested on hospitalized Covid patients. The studies were completed in March, but apart from one case study (Danish medical journal) Data has not yet been published. However, the project group shows that the results are very promising.

The stockings were tested on 16 Covid-19 patients who agreed to try the support stocking during their hospital stay. Participants were hospitalized for five to seven days and given a support stocking on each leg, but only one of them had the printed electrodes. The leg without electrodes on the support stocking acted as a control.

The electrodes were used to electrically stimulate the thigh muscles of the participants twice a day for 30 minutes at an individually adjusted intensity.

“The study showed that these patients lost around 10 percent of their muscle mass after just five to six days of hospitalization. With this new technology, however, we were able to counteract the loss, ”says Charlotte Suetta, chief physician and professor at the University of Copenhagen and head of clinical studies in the project.

Muscle loss is a serious problem for hospital patients, especially those who require intensive care and are ventilated for long periods of time. Recovery from muscle wasting after several weeks of total inactivity can take months or years, and some patients may never fully recover.

Electrical stimulation of the muscles is nothing new, but there are several disadvantages with existing solutions. For example, difficulty turning the electrodes on and off and skin irritation in the stimulated areas.

“Our invention is much easier to use because the electrodes are an integral part of the textile,” says Shweta Agarwala, a printed electronics expert who was responsible for the electronic part of the assembly that developed after breakthroughs in printed electronics technology.

The electrodes have three ultra-thin, flexible layers that can be printed directly onto various types of material, allowing the muscles to be stimulated through the stocking with minimal irritation.

“And since the electrodes are an essential part of the stockings, they can also tolerate the cleaning processes in hospitals,” continues the assistant professor.

To date, Aarhus University has printed nearly 600 medical support stockings, and it is likely that the stockings can be used for a far larger group than just Covid patients, including bedridden patients in general, as well as for rehabilitation and wheelchair users.

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The project is a collaboration between Aarhus University and Copenhagen University. The research group consists of Assistant Professor Shweta Agarwala, Associate Professor Peter Høgh Mikkelsen and Research Associate Youssif Mehri from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology, and Associate Professor Jens Vinge Nygaard from the Department of Biological and Chemical Engineering at Aarhus University and Professor, Head Physician Charlotte Suetta at the University Hospitals in Copenhagen, Herlev and Bispebjerg.

The group was funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the Innovation Fund Denmark and the Lundbeck Foundation.

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