The spread of atopic eczema—also known as atopic dermatitis—has exploded over the past 50 years, with current figures showing that 20 per cent of all children suffer from the disease to a greater or lesser extent. In particular, nightly itching is a big problem. Three DTU students have now developed a high-tech duvet that can alleviate some of the discomfort associated with the disease, and their project has been selected from among 300 projects to receive financial support for the further development.
Among other things, atopic eczema manifests itself in the form of red irritated skin, sores, and split earlobes—and even though three out of four children grow out of it with age—the disease can pose quite a burden on childhood. In particular, nightly itching is a disabling problem. Disrupted sleep also affects concentration, learning ability, and general well-being.
Earlier this year, LEO Innovation—a research unit under LEO Pharma—therefore decided to hold a project competition for students to develop a practical or digital solution that can alleviate the discomfort for the many patients suffering from a skin disease.
Out of the 300 applications received, LEO Innovation selected a single project to support economically and assist in development: a duvet that combines space technology with experience gained from ADHD treatment. Behind the project are the three BEng students—Simone Ellebæk Nielsen, Valdemar Batory Østergaard, and Frederik Kragh Brandt. The duvet is their third semester project on the Process and Innovation study programme.
“We looked at many different areas where we could make a difference for children with eczema—diet, playground, creams, etc. We decided on the duvet because one of the main reasons for skin irritation and thus itching in children with atopic eczema is that duvets can’t be warm enough without becoming too warm at certain times during the night. The skin sweats at temperatures above 30 degrees and when that happens it causes the skin irritation to flare up. Consequently, many sufferers find that the problem is greatest at night and that it disrupts their sleep,” says Simone Nielsen.
“20 per cent of all children suffer from the disease (atopic eczema) to a greater or lesser extent.”
To solve the astronauts’ problems associated with extreme heat and cold in space, NASA developed the material ‘Outlast’ in 2010. Outlast records, stores, and releases heat, maintaining a so-called thermoneutral environment. At the same time, experiments in the treatment of ADHD, for example, have shown that pressure and contact with the skin can distract or block other signals in the neural pathways (gate-control theory). By combining the two elements, the group were able to attack the problem from two different angles at the same time.
The group established a test collaboration with families affected by atopic eczema, and in this way they were able—after replacing the material on the underside of a normal quilt or blanket with Outlast—to ascertain that the surface skin temperature during the night stabilized at close to 30°C —below the temperature threshold for sweat production.
Metal chains and focus groups
The group then experimented by adding stainless steel chains inside the blanket to press and stimulate the skin in such a way as to reduce itchiness.
A gate-controlling/thermoneutral prototype was once again tested at focus group families, and preliminary testing indicates that the duvet has the potential to reduce the problems and positively impact sleep:
“The many families we’ve established contact with via the project and who have first-hand experience of the problems have provided valuable information, resulting in a new design and solutions. Once the final tests have been completed, the product will be ready for launch,” concludes Valdemar Østergaard.