High tech 'shorts' that can save lives

Pressure ulcers (bedsores), are a serious and painful health complication that can cause infection, sepsis, organ failure, even death—in the United States, pressure ulcers kill over 60,000 people annually and is one of the US's 10 leading causes of death. It's what killed Superman actor Christopher Reeve, complications related to an infected pressure ulcer.

Significant cost for patients and healthcare systems
Pressure ulcers are a risk for anyone with limited or no mobility and sensation, including stroke patients and nursing home residents. For wheelchair users, it's estimated that 80% will develop a pressure ulcer. Even with specialized equipment and turning protocols and the most diligent care, people still develop pressure ulcers. In Canada, it's estimated pressure ulcers occur 26.0% annually in healthcare institutions with a cost of $3.5 billion to the healthcare system. In the US, it's estimated that 2.5 million patients are treated for pressure ulcers in acute healthcare facilities annually, at a cost around $11 billion (IHI, 2011 Patient Safety institute).

Research sparks an innovative solution
Treating deeper pressure ulcers can take months or years. The key is prevention. People with no mobility issues don't get pressure ulcers because of fidgeting-the body's natural response to discomfort that develops from sitting or lying down. People who can't move or have limited movement can't fidget. It was this observation that sparked PhD student Vivian Mushahwar's imagination.

Her research with electrical stimulation to restore movement in people with spinal-cord injuries brought her into contact with patients suffering from pressure ulcers. Mushahwar wondered what would happen if she could get the patients' muscles to contract periodically using electrical stimulation. This was the "aha" moment that sparked her idea

Electric bike shorts
Fast forward several years, Vivian and her team developed close-fitting shorts containing pads that deliver a minor electrical stimulus every 10 minutes to contract the muscles. The shorts were trialed with patients in various settings, including intensive care and home care. Both patients and care providers found the shorts safe and feasible for everyday use, and none developed a pressure ulcer. 

Being commercialized 
To get this into widespread use requires commercilization. UAlberta spinoff Rehabtornics is currently commercilization the product, called Prelivia and currently seeking to fulfill US and Canada regulatory requirements. Prelivia received FDA clearance in August 2021. 

Getting Prelivia into the market could prevent significant patient pain and suffering, as well as providing enormous healthcare system cost savings. The cost of pressure ulcers is driven by medium and severe ulcers, which is what Prelivia was designed to prevent. If Prelivia can prevent 50% of those, the costs to treat pressure ulcers in Canada could be halved, a savings of $1.5+ billion. In the USA, that could be $5.5+ billion saved each year.