Third version of the SMART Suit prototype in testing

How young people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) are helping to develop the latest innovations in mobility

Applying tech to disability

Despite recent advances in robotics, there is no technology available to help people with disabilities with the mobility of their upper bodies. But that is changing, thanks to a project led by Duchenne UK, in collaboration with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) UK and the University of Liverpool’s Inclusionaries Lab.

Together, we are creating the SMART Suit; a discrete, wearable exoskeleton controlled by the wearer. People with DMD need this kind of assistance to extend their independence for as long as possible, as their limbs become weaker with age.

Users driving development

People with DMD are right at the centre of this project. It’s their testing of prototypes, and feedback on what works, that is informing the design direction of this project.

Our collaboration brings together Duchenne UK and SMA UK’s lived patient insight with the University of Liverpool’s world-leading expertise in user-centred design research.

Alongside our project partners, we’ve created a team of delivery partners with skills and expertise spanning user engagement, technical, engineering, service provision, health economics and market access.

We engage with the people who will benefit from the SMART Suit at every stage, to ensure that the final design is both functional and desirable; it’s got to be something potential users will want to wear.

Collaborative approach

The project has raised £2 million, with £1.25 million of this being thanks to an award from players of People’s Postcode Lottery. We are following an iterative development approach, building prototypes and testing them with members of the DMD and SMA communities. We have just built and tested our third development prototype and will continue to work closely with our partners and the community as we enter the next phase of product development.

Our technology projects are quite unique – as a patient organisation, our primary motivation is delivering products that meet the needs and desires of disabled people. We continue to work alongside other organisations who share our values to drive progress in this area. We hope to find a commercial partner in 2024 to help us take the SMART Suit to market by 2025.

Duchenne UK Impact Report 2023

A landmark year of achievement and impact