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£1m grant to research pain rehabilitation technology

20 April 2010

Pain avatar

Dr Nadia Bianchi-Berthouze (UCL Interaction Centre) has won a grant of over £1,000,000 to research chronic pain rehabilitation technologies.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) grant, which has been awarded over four years, will enable Dr Nadia Bianchi-Berthouze and her team to expand state-of-the-art technologies in the field of emotion recognition in relation to chronic pain rehabilitation.

Almost one in seven UK citizens suffer from chronic pain, much of which is mechanical lower-back pain that is not treatable. The researchers will seek to advance understanding of how pain-related moods, such as fear, depression, and frustration, interact with motor behaviour to modify pain expressions, and to produce guarded movements that can exacerbate pain or worsen disability.

The project will employ a novel user-centred approach to developing patients' understanding of their body movement during self-directed therapy. It will also identify what type of feedback best promotes engagement and encourages persistence, and offsets the negative effects of pain-related anxiety, frustration and low mood.

Dr Bianchi-Berthouze said: “The goal of this research is to help the growing number of people suffering from chronic back pain cope with their condition, self-manage their rehabilitation and eventually facilitate their return to work. Whilst maintaining physical activity is key to rehabilitation, people with chronic back pain will often avoid doing physical activity to avoid feeling pain, or because of negative emotions, for example, fear, anxiety and depression. This lack of activity in turn results in them not seeing progress in their condition and further their negative thoughts.”

“In this project, we will develop an ‘affective virtual coach’, a system that will support them on a daily basis to self-manage their rehabilitation programme. It will not only monitor their physical progress but also, and most importantly, it will adapt their programme by being sensitive and responsive to their emotional state through interpreting nonverbal clues such as body movement, facial expressions and nonverbal utterances."

The project is a collaboration between UCL, Imperial and the University of Leicester.

Image above left: Pain avatar

UCL context

UCLIC is a leading UK Centre of Excellence in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), working collaboratively with industry and the research community and drawing on the best scientific traditions in Computer Science and the Human Sciences. UCLIC is the only UK HCI Centre with formal interdisciplinary support.

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