A revolutionary neck collar designed to ease pain and make everyday tasks such as eating and communicating much easier for patients living with motor neurone disease (MND) is now available to healthcare professionals and individuals across the world. The Head Up collar is the first of its kind and has been brought to market as a result of an innovative five-year project by the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University and the NIHR Devices for Dignity (D4D) MedTech Co-operative, which is hosted by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals.

Patients with MND helped to design the unique collar which, unlike those currently available, offers personalised support to the collection of small muscles in the neck which are particularly vulnerable to the wasting effects of the debilitating disease.

Following a successful multi-centre clinical trial the collar has been made available to purchase from Chesterfield-based manufacturing company TalarMade, who have more than 30 years’ experience in developing clinical innovations for use in rehabilitative and orthotic practice. The neck support collar was trialled in 10 sites across the UK and in Ireland and was very positively received by patients, carers and professionals.

MND is a debilitating condition that destroys the cells that control movement, leaving sufferers unable to move, walk, talk and eventually breathe. Treatments are very limited, and most patients with the disease are only expected to live two to five years after diagnosis. A frequent problem caused by MND is the loss of strength in the neck, causing patients heads to droop to the side or the front. Until now, many head supports available to MND patients resemble the restrictive braces used after a trauma – such as a car crash. Alternatives include soft fabric collars.

The trauma collars typically restrict any residual head movement with many patients finding them very uncomfortable, bulky and visually unappealing and therefore choose not to wear them. The soft fabric collars offer little support and tend to make patients feel hot and sweaty. MND patients experiencing problems with the existing collars approached clinicians and researchers from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust who, with the help of designers from Sheffield Hallam University, have invented the pioneering collar.

Lead clinician in the Head Up project, Chris McDermott, Professor of Translational Neurology at the University of Sheffield and Consultant Neurologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: “MND is a terrible disease, and what we need is a cure that stops people from dying from the condition. While something like this collar is not going to change the disease course, we hope it will help improve patients’ quality of life and help them get the most out of what they can do. We listened to what matters to them and what will have the greatest impact on their quality of life. “The special collaboration of leading clinicians, researchers, designers, manufacturers and the patients themselves have been working tirelessly for the past five-years to bring the idea to life.”

Professor McDermott, who is also the Deputy Director of the NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre – the UK’s only Biomedical Research Centre dedicated to Neurology – added: “The concept itself seems extremely simple and we couldn’t believe something like this hadn’t been developed and patented before. We are hoping the collar will continue to evolve and be improved as further advances are made, however the feedback we have already received from patients is extremely promising and it is wonderful to hear the impact it is already having on their lives.”

Manufacturer TalarMade enhanced the original design of the Head Up collar to provide patients with extra comfort, better aesthetics and the use of Outlast thermal regulatory material in order to keep patients cool. TalarMade Managing Director, Ian Leddy, said: “When TalarMade became involved in the project, we were able to quickly identify a number of material improvements to the original prototype based on our vast knowledge of material technology and technical design within the orthopaedic marketplace. We used Outlast technology which is a temperature regulating material designed initially for NASA to line space suits. It uses phase change materials that absorb, store and release heat for optimal thermal comfort. The improvements we made to the collar included support struts which can be moulded to form fit any shape, a microgrip lining to the struts to allow multiple re-positioning without slippage and changes to the fastening to allow for better conformity and fitting to the individual patient. “The combination of all of these materials has resulted in a fantastic product which will deliver high levels of patient outcome and compliance.”

Source: University of Sheffield