Researchers are starting a major new project to develop and test a mobile phone app to help people with the connective tissue disease, scleroderma.
One of the condition’s most common symptoms are painful sores on the tips of the fingers – and sometimes toes – which can have a major impact on everyday life.
Around half of the 10,000 people in the UK with scleroderma experience these sores – known as digital ulcers – which are often slow to heal. They are usually treated with ointments or medication but these aren’t always effective and new therapies are urgently needed.
One thing holding back the development of new treatments is a lack of clear indicators showing how well drugs perform in clinical trials.
Now researchers at Salford Royal and The University of Manchester, led by scleroderma expert Professor Ariane Herrick, are developing a smartphone app which will allow patients with scleroderma to photograph their ulcers so they can be monitored over time and assessed accurately.
The work is supported by a £216,773 grant from the charity Versus Arthritis and is sponsored by The University of Manchester.
It will involve 30 patients from Professor Herrick’s clinics at Salford Royal, which is a specialist centre for scleroderma for patients from all over the North West.
She said: “Patients often bring photos on their phones to show us the state of their skin in between appointments and we know from discussions with them that they feel comfortable about recording their ulcers in this way. We also know that ulcers can bring a good deal of pain and stress, as well as the risk of wounds getting contaminated.
“In this study, patients will help in development of a new app, contributing to a collection of more than 30,000 finger ulcer images and reporting daily assessments of their ulcers, hand pain and disability.
“We aim to create an app that will be a useful tool in measuring healing in clinical trials on finger ulcers, which will help to identify effective new treatments. Helping the development of new treatments will ultimately improve quality of life, reducing disability and pain.”
The research team also includes Professor of digital epidemiology Will Dixon, an expert in the collection and analysis of data direct from patients using their own technology such as smartphones and smartwatches, Professor Chris Taylor, Professor Mark Dickinson and Dr Andrea Murray, all of The University of Manchester.
The three-year project will start recruiting patients at Salford Royal this autumn.