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Sheffield Hallam recognised in UK’s Best Breakthroughs List

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A specially-designed bra developed by Sheffield Hallam University to help women undergoing radiotherapy has today been named as one of the UK’s 100 best breakthroughs for its significant impact on people’s everyday lives.

The SuPPORT 4 All project led by a team of health experts and designers from Sheffield Hallam is honoured in the UK’s Best Breakthroughs list of the last century for its pioneering work that aims to improve accuracy of treatment and also help patients maintain dignity during radiotherapy.

Funded by the NIHR through its Invention for Innovation (i4i) Programme and delivered in partnership with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and Panache Lingerie, the project team have developed a bra that allows accurate positioning of the breast on a day-to-day basis. This may also reduce the radiotherapy dose received by organs that lie close to the breast such as the lungs and heart in some patients.

Apart from aiming to improve accuracy, the bra should also provide improved dignity and modesty for patients during their radiotherapy treatment, since, in the majority of radiotherapy centres worldwide, women are required to expose the affected breast during treatment.

The bra, which is currently in the early stages of development and is being tested in a clinical feasibility trial with patients, is suitable to be worn during treatment and can be used with existing radiotherapy positioning equipment to stabilise the breast, whilst also maintaining patient dignity.

At the moment most practitioners across the globe rely on the use of permanent pin point tattoo marks alongside laser systems, to position the patient under the radiotherapy beam. The bra may remove the need for these marks which are often a concern for patients.

The list of breakthroughs demonstrates how UK universities are at the forefront of some of the world’s most important discoveries, innovations and social initiatives, including the discovery of penicillin, work tackling plastic pollution, ultrasound scans to check the health of unborn babies and the establishment of the Living Wage.

The list also highlights the less celebrated but vital breakthroughs that transform lives, including a toilet that flushes human waste without the need for water; the development of a new scrum technique to make rugby safer; a sports initiative that aims to use football to resolve conflict in divided communities; - and even work to protect the quality of the chocolate we eat.

The list was compiled by Universities UK, the umbrella group for UK universities, as part of the MadeAtUni campaign to change public perceptions of universities and bring to life the difference they make to people, lives and communities across the UK.

It follows independent research undertaken by Britain Thinks which found that the public has little understanding of the benefits of universities beyond undergraduate teaching. The findings show that research is one of the key triggers to change opinion about universities but for many people, it is an abstract concept.

Professor Roger Eccleston, Pro Vice-Chancellor for research and global engagement at Sheffield Hallam, said: “It is a fantastic achievement for the University to be featured in the UK’s Best Breakthrough list. We’re extremely proud of the work of our academics and the difference they are making to people, lives and communities.

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"Sheffield Hallam specialises in healthcare research and its practitioners, scientists, engineers and designers regularly collaborate to create innovative solutions to global health challenges. 

“The MadeAtUni campaign is an incredibly important initiative for Sheffield Hallam as it allows students, alumni, the local community and the wider population to understand the work that we do and the impact it has.”

Heidi Probst, professor of radiotherapy and oncology at Sheffield Hallam is leading the SuPPORT 4 All project. She said: "I am very proud of this work and I am delighted that it has been recognised in this way. Every day around 150 women in the UK will be told they have breast cancer. Globally around 1.5 million women are diagnosed with the disease annually. So with over 80% of women surviving breast cancer beyond five years, improving the delivery of treatments and reducing side effects for women living beyond their cancer could have a huge impact. 

"As part of our study and design process we have consulted with women who have undergone treatment and are in various stages of recovery. From these discussions we know that having the ability to wear a bra during treatment can be key in maintaining dignity, which would vastly improve the patient experience during a particularly difficult time."

Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK, said: “Universities really do transform lives. The technology we use every day, the medicines that save lives, the teachers who inspire – all come from UK universities and the important work being done by academics.

“The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list is a testament to the difference that universities make to people’s lives and we want everyone to join us in celebrating the work they do.”

The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list: 100+ Ways Universities Have Improved Everyday Life was put together in partnership with universities across the UK. As part of the MadeAtUni campaign, every university in the country was invited to nominate the one thing from their institution which they believe has had the biggest impact on people, lives and communities. Over 100 universities submitted a nomination. The entries cover health, technology, environment, family, community and culture and sport.

You can find out more about the UK’s Best Breakthroughs and the MadeAtUni campaign here

For press information: Sarah Duce in the Sheffield Hallam University press office on 0114 225 4025 or email