£5.4m funding boost for patient-centred exercise study

A research project to explore exercise in oncology settings has received a £5.4 million funding boost.

Said to be the world’s largest study into the effects of exercise on the treatment of children with cancer has begun, with scientists from Oxford Brookes University taking a leading role.

The five-and-a-half year project, named FORTE, will research the experiences of at least 450 children aged between four and 21 years-old and aims to generate evidence for a patient-centred exercise treatment.

The researchers said: “In adults, exercise in oncology settings has been found to improve tolerance and completion rates of cancer treatments – however in children, there is no strong evidence of how exercise affects outcomes.”

From Spring 2022, researchers will go into nine hospitals across Europe to guide child cancer patients through exercises focusing on strength, flexibility, balance and endurance. Researchers will be introducing an app which analyses digital movement and augmented reality, hoped to make exercise more effective.

Dr Peter Wright, who leads the research at Oxford Brookes, explains the benefits: “We believe exercise can counteract some of the side effects of the cancer treatment and improve the patient’s overall health and longer term comorbidities. Using AI with the app will fill a rehabilitation gap that currently exists, improving exercise habits and patient outcomes. The use of technology will make rehabilitation more accessible to patients, and longer term exercise training will be more effective, age-adapted and personalised. It will help create a new health care pathway from hospital all the way into reintegrating with PE at school and sports in other settings.

“The research project has the ambition to implement paediatric exercise oncology as an evidence-based standard in clinical care for all childhood cancer patients across the EU and beyond.”

Stan Windsor, lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and the research project manager, added: “Using technology to support patients with exercise, beyond seeing them in person, could really help these children to stick to rehabilitation programmes and improve their chances of recovery. Using the technology equipment in the hospital also poses a lower infection risk, which is particularly useful during the current situation of reduced contact owing to COVID-19. 

“Patients will use this technology to self-correct their exercises and prepare for leaving the hospital. Designing a programme that uses technology in both a hospital and at home will, we hope, mean that the children adhere to their rehabilitation throughout all stages of their treatment.”

The Oxford Brookes technology based project will be implemented in five hospitals across Europe by January 2022.