A HAND-held massage device that could transform the lives of those suffering an unusual condition is being tested in Swindon.

The SaliPen, manufactured by US firm Saliwell, is being trialled with patients at the Great Western Hospital. The two-pronged device uses tiny electric pulses to stimulate the salivary glands, encouraging the production of saliva.

It has been designed to help those suffering from Sjögren’s Syndrome, which affects around 0.6 per cent of adults in the UK and is more common among women over 50-years-old. The condition prevents the glands producing secretions like tears, sweat and saliva. It leaves sufferers with uncomfortable dry mouths, itchy eyes and dry skin.

“There are a lot of people with it at Great Western Hospital because of the specialists we have here,” said Suzannah Pegler, lead research practitioner at the Marlborough Road hospital.

“The SaliPen sends out little electric impulses through to the salivary glands, triggering them to produce saliva. It’s so subtle you can’t feel it.

“It has a massive impact on patients’ quality of life. The companies think it works, they just need it approved for use on the NHS.”

The device is just one of many currently being tested at GWH. The hospital is currently taking part in 55 clinical trials on behalf of universities, researchers and companies.

The 18-strong team is funded by the National Institute of Health Research. Health firms also pay a premium for each patient recruited to studies.

Suzannah, a former occupational therapist who has been working at GWH for seven-and-a-half years, will give a talk this evening that aims to burst some of the myths around clinical research.

“For patients, the myth is that they would be treated as a Guinea pig,” she said. “That they won’t get the best treatment because they’re being put in a clinical trial.”

The truth is different. Patients go through a rigorous selection process and are offered new treatments not otherwise available on the NHS.

They include a new device placed inside the artery that measures blood pressure in patients who have suffered heart attacks in the past. When the patient lies against a specially-adapted pillow, the tiny sensor connects to the wi-fi and sends the data to cardiology nurses at the hospital.

“They can read whether the pressures are good or bad,” said Suzannah. The nurses can then adjust a patient’s medication. The researcher added: “This is stopping them from being forced to come into hospital.” Average hospital stays for patients can range from a week to 10 days.

Another current study is trialling an alternative to invasive colonoscopy procedures, testing patients’ stool samples: “It’s not that glamorous, but the hope is this test can predict if someone has cancer. It may negate the need to have a colonoscopy in the future.”

Suzannah, who joined the GWH team with little previous experience of the world of clinical research, is now passionate about its potential: “Research has shown the mortality rates are better in hospitals that are active in research. Even if patients aren’t involved, they have found people take more care and are more questioning.”

Her free talk will be at the GWH Academy, tonight, 6pm-8pm. For more, visit: www.gwh.nhs.uk.