Ground-breaking space technology receives real-life health application

UK Space Agency awards Leicester team £2 million.

A team from the University of Leicester and Leicester’s hospitals have been awarded £2 million pounds by the UK Space Agency to develop a new mobile application providing disease specific exercise advice. The money was awarded by the UK Space Agency in partnership with NHS England and the European Space Agency (ESA) for the NHS’ 70th birthday. The University beat off stiff competition, and were one of only four successful projects to receive the funding, which will help to address a key NHS 70th Anniversary Challenge - managing long term conditions (LTC).

The new mobile application  – Personalised Space Technology Exercise Platform (P-STEP) –  will provide guidance based on space data combined with artificial intelligence to deliver personalised, disease specific exercise advice with pollution warnings at a staggering 10-metre resolution.

Air pollution is increasingly a concern for patients with health conditions such as heart disease, COPD and asthma.  Long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to decline in lung function, type 2 diabetes, problems with brain development and cognition, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.  There is a need for effective monitoring and reporting of air quality, to protect the health of people at risk.  P-STEP will combine real-time high-resolution air quality data with expert-designed disease-specific individualised exercise advice. Exercise is widely recognised as a ‘miracle pill’, however it can be challenging for many people with these long term conditions, which is why the development of this app is so important.

The Leicester team, led by consultant cardiologist, Professor André Ng from the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, University of Leicester brings together leading experts in the fields of rehabilitation, physical activity and lifestyle, environmental health and air quality, human computer interfaces and app development and translational and applied health research. This formidable collaboration will enable translation of space technology to real-life applications for the benefit of patients.

Professor Ng commented: “Whilst we know physical activity is good for many patients with long term conditions including heart and lung diseases, clinicians are often anxious about recommending exercise and often unable to prescribe accurate and effective exercise for their patients. We are really pleased to have been given the NHS/UK Space Agency Award which enables us to harness our expertise in Space, Health and Environment sciences here at Leicester.  We will develop a patient-centred mobile app that takes in satellite data with unique resolution including that of air quality that delivers precise guideline-based exercise advice tailored to their condition and ability. This greatly enhances the confidence of both healthcare professionals to prescribe and patients to put into practice, effective physical activity which improves well-being and reduces healthcare utilisation.”

With Leicester’s strong track record in the Space sector and the only National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre with a specific physical activity and lifestyle theme, the team are uniquely positioned to develop P-STEP. Project partners, EarthSense, a University of Leicester spin-out company, have unparalleled expertise and are leaders in accurate air quality monitoring, modelling and data.

20 million people in the UK are inactive. The cost to society of a lack of physical activity is growing, and exercise is widely recognised to have greater benefits than many drugs. P-STEP will simplify the prescription of exercise to patients with long term health conditions and enable users to integrate this into their daily lives, and at the same time minimise the potential harmful effects of air pollution.