1. Virtual Physiotherapist could improve stroke recovery

    A system developed by researchers at Leeds Beckett University aims to offer a ‘Virtual Physiotherapist’ service to patients recovering from stroke.

    Through Grow MedTech the research team has been able to make critical connections with healthcare professionals and patient groups, as well as benefiting from funding for user-testing and development work.

    Rehabilitation following a stroke can be extremely tough for patients, both mentally and physically. Physiotherapy sessions can help regain strength and movement – but regular exercise is key to success and this can be hard if patients struggle to attend clinics, or if they have to motivate themselves to maintain an exercise regime at home.

    Tackling these challenges could alleviate a significant burden from the NHS: around 1.2 million people in the UK are currently living with the after effects of stroke and this is likely to rise as stroke increases among middle-aged adults. Clinical and social care costs amount to around £1.7 billion per year.

    The Virtual Physiotherapist enables patients to carry out simple arm exercises at home and track their progress.

    Using the system is as simple as sitting in front of a computer and carrying out the prescribed task, such as lifting a glass to drink or moving an object across a table.

    Artificial intelligence in the computer’s software tracks the movements, building up a picture of progress over time.

    Direct access to clinicians and patients

    The sort of technology employed by the Virtual Physiotherapist is likely to become increasingly available within healthcare settings. Its success, however, is entirely dependent on whether or not patients and physicians are inclined to make use of it.

    Grow MedTech’s emphasis on involving end users in technology development from an early stage means the Leeds Beckett team have been able to make useful connections to guide development work.

    Through Translate MedTech, Grow MedTech’s predecessor organisation, lead research Professor Dorothy Monekosso was able to make valuable links with clinicians and assistive technology experts through a network of clinical professionals.

    “We had developed a prototype using funding from Royal Academy of Engineering and the University of Malaysia that showed how patients could use the system – but what we were lacking was input from clinicians about whether they saw a use for this sort of technology, and how they would use it,” says Professor Monekosso.

    “Through consultations facilitated by Grow MedTech, we were able to get some really positive feedback, but also lots of development ideas.”

    “Through the Grow MedTech and Translate MedTech events I’ve attended, I now have a wide group of clinical personnel in the region who are interested in helping us take this forward.

    Grow MedTech’s support goes much further than just access to funding. Without access to NHS colleagues, it doesn’t matter how good the system or the technology – it just won’t go anywhere!”

    Expressions of interest from clinical colleagues also helped the team secure Grow MedTech funding to further test the Virtual Physiotherapist.

    During this phase, Grow MedTech Technology Innovation Officer Cat Colquhoun introduced Professor Monekosso to colleagues in Assisted Living Leeds, which draws together Leeds City Council’s assistive technology services and information.

    “Through Assisted Living Leeds we were able to work directly with a group of stroke survivors and have them test out the system and give their opinion about how – and whether – they would use it,” says Professor Monekosso.

    Finding rewards that work

    After confirming the clinical use and interest from patients, the team can explore in more depth what incentives will really encourage users to maintain regular use of the Virtual Physiotherapist.

    A Proof of Market grant from Grow MedTech is enabling more work to be done with Assisted Living Leeds, working with patient groups to test different prototypes.

    “We need to make sure we understand our patient’s motivation and how we can harness it,” says Professor Monekosso. “For example, when people play computer games, they might get coins or badges if they play regularly. Is that the sort of reward that would motivate our patients? That’s what we hope to find out in this next phase of research.”

  2. Imaging and biosensing technologies for objective decision-making

    As the new era of personalised medicine gets underway, doctors are requiring increasingly sophisticated and intelligent decision-making and monitoring tools. These diagnostic tools will help them make treatment decisions that are relevant to highly specific subsets of patients, or even personalised to an individual.

    From wearable monitoring devices, to smart diagnostics that use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to learn and adapt, these new technologies are becoming essential to help doctors spot conditions early and deliver the right treatment, at the right time.

    The potential benefits to patient wellbeing, as well as the savings in NHS resources, are significant.

    At Grow MedTech, we support researchers to evidence how their technology developments will provide such savings.

    Our Proof of Market and Proof of Feasibility funds can help researchers move projects through the early development stages, where it is often hard to find funding, but where being able to demonstrate aspects such as market need and health economics is crucial for moving to the next Technology Readiness Level.

    Solving the microwave challenge

    The University of York has particularly impressive capabilities in the field of imaging, biosensing and diagnostics technology, with cutting-edge research being carried out in a number of departments and access to facilities such as its Centre for Hyperpolarisation in Magnetic Resonance (CHyM) and the Bioscience Technology Facility.

    These facilities put the University in a great position to take advantage of our support.

    One area in which York is excelling is in the use of microwave technology in diagnostics – specifically to measure the depth and severity of burns.

    A team led by Professor Roddy Vann, in the York Plasma Institute, is currently working on a prototype device that can provide a 3D image of temperatures up to 2cm below the skin by measuring microwaves naturally emitted by the body, the strength of which depends on the temperature of the tissue.

    This is expected to greatly advance research into burn progression through direct imaging of the damaged area.

    Microwave imaging of burns has been considered in scientific literature since the 1970s but technical challenges have so far limited its translation into the clinic.

    This device is innovative in combining recent advances in the design of antennas and ultra-fast data acquisition with the potential to make microwave medical imaging both technically and commercially viable.

    We are helping to de-risk the project by demonstrating the feasibility of the prototype and supporting the team to develop the mathematics and software that will convert the complex signals that are emitted from the burn into a usable image that can be used by healthcare professionals to judge its severity

    Scientists from industry partner, Sylatech, are co-inventors of the technology, working alongside Grow MedTech and the York team to commercialise the technology.

    Working closely with industry from an early stage is always important and the link with Sylatech is particularly strong, having grown from its early days as a Knowledge Transfer Partnership.

    We’ve also been fortunate to bring in clinicians from specialist burns centres at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield – as well as Patient and Public Involvement groups – to guide this research.

    Improving c-section infection diagnosis

    Measuring the body’s heat signals is a promising area for diagnostics, and one in which Sheffield Hallam researchers are also focusing their attention with our support.

    This time, infra-red thermal imaging cameras are being employed to help with decision-making, by predicting the likelihood of surgical site infection in women after Caesarean section.

    Around 200,000 women undergo caesarean sections each year. Since it is hard to tell, by looking at a wound, whether or not it will become infected, women are routinely prescribed prophylactic antibiotics.

    Identifying infections early and treating them appropriately will reduce patient risk, and cut down the number of antibiotics prescribed.

    In the University’s Centre for Health and Social Care Research, Professor Charmaine Childs’ team is using Grow MedTech funds to investigate the potential market for the device before making a bid for significant national funding to refine the design and software ahead of a clinical trial.

    In this way, our support is helping to bridge the gap between early stage research and more advanced technology development.

    Objective disease diagnosis

    One area in which diagnosis is particularly difficult is in diseases marked by cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer’s. 

    There are a number of challenges, including finding reliable biochemistry tests that can accurately measure changes, and obtaining the right samples from a particularly vulnerable group of patients.

    At Leeds Beckett, we funded a Proof of Market project, led by Dr Nat Milton, to progress a non-invasive test based on saliva samples. Working with the University of Huddersfield and the University of Roehampton, Dr Milton’s team has identified biochemical markers called kisspeptins that are found in saliva and can be linked to Alzheimer’s.

    We worked with Dr Milton to support a detailed exploration of the potential market for this test, along with an early stage cost benefit analysis. The results were extremely positive, showing a clear market opportunity for a test of this type.

    The next step for the team will be able to finalise its development and produce a prototype device. It’s clear that there’s an urgent need to be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s more accurately and at an earlier stage and so it’s particularly exciting to see this technology progress towards the clinic.

  3. Growing MedTech Translation 2019: conference highlights

    Over 130 delegates from across the medtech sector joined us on Friday 6 December 2019 to learn more about the current innovation landscape in the Leeds and Sheffield City Regions at Growing MedTech Translation 2019.

    The packed agenda included three speakers from actively supported Grow MedTech projects, student pitches from recipients of Translate MedTech Summer Student Project Funding, and medtech pitches from six hopeful project teams who sought to impress a panel of independent innovation specialist ‘dragons’ for the chance to win £10,000 in innovation funding support.

    Other key speakers included Prof John Fisher, who highlighted the need for medtech innovators to recognise that successful new innovative medical products that come to market over the next decade will be driven by technology convergence, and by patient and population needs.

    Prof John Fisher giving his opening talk at Growing MedTech Translation 2019
    Prof John Fisher giving his opening talk at Growing MedTech Translation 2019

    Our keynote talk was given by Dr Rosie McEachan, director of Born in Bradford who spoke on the importance of end-user insights in developing impactful solutions to unmet healthcare needs.

    Dr Rosie McEachan, director of Born in Bradford, delivering her keynote speech at Growing MedTech Translation 2019
    Dr Rosie McEachan, director of Born in Bradford, delivering her keynote speech

    Presentations throughout the day were balanced by a long break for lunch and networking.

    Delegate networking taking place between presentations at Growing MedTech Translation 2019.
    Networking between presentations

    During this break, delegates had the opportunity to network with representatives from nine organisations at their exhibition stands and discuss regional opportunities that may be of interest.

    Each student who gave a presentation about their Translate MedTech summer project also had the opportunity to present research posters to delegates to facilitate networking.

    Dr Will Bolton was awarded a £50 Amazon voucher after delegates voted that he presented the best pitch and poster of the day about his Translate MedTech Summer Student Project on developing circular frame fixators for leg fracture patients in developing countries.  

    Networking taking place around the Translate MedTech student project posters
    Delegate networking around the Translate MedTech student project posters

    Based on their use of Sli.do, a clear highlight of the conference for the entrepreneurially-minded was the Pump Prime Funding Competition pitches.

    Prof Reza Saatchi and Prof Heather Elphick presenting their medtech pitch to our panel of 'dragons' during the Pump Prime Funding Competition at Growing MedTech Translation 2019
    Prof Reza Saatchi and Prof Heather Elphick presenting their medtech pitch to our panel of ‘dragons’ during the Pump Prime Funding Competition.

    The audience submitted more than 80 questions to quiz the six hopeful contestants, with topics ranging from technology specifics, to questions around IP and business scalability.

    Following a lengthy discussion between the dragons and an audience vote, Prof Reza Saatchi and Heather Elphick were announced as winners of the Pump Prime Funding Competition, and the £10,000 innovation funding prize.

    A picture of Prof Reza Saatchi accepting the £10,000 prize for winning the Grow MedTech Pump Prime Funding Competition at Growing MedTech Translation 2019
    Prof Reza Saatchi being awarded his £10,000 prize for winning the Pump Prime Funding Competition

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  4. Breaking down barriers in medtech

    Digital technologies are breaking down the walls of the medtech industry, enabling companies – and academics – that are new to medtech to apply their knowledge within the sector.

    This is true at all levels, from big players such as Apple (who recently appointed a senior cardiologist) and Google (who recently bought Fitbit) to the smaller companies and individual academics who are using their know-how to develop digital health technologies.

    Dr Steven Fenton from the University of Huddersfield, for example, is an electronic engineer with a research interest in audio quality in music production.

    Grow MedTech is supporting his project to create a 3D ‘audio map’ to help blind and visually impaired people navigate their surroundings.

    He is adapting software he developed for another purpose to translate a visual image into a sound picture and identify potential obstacles in the user’s path.

    Following the same pathway

    Although digital health products may seem very different to traditional medtech, the same criteria need to be applied to their commercialisation.

    Dr Fenton has received our earliest stage funding, to help him establish clinical need and market opportunity for the software and identify the best direction to take.

    The same questions need to be asked of this project as for any other – for example: does this technology meet a clinical need, is there a commercial opportunity for it, what competitors are already out there?

    But that’s not to say there aren’t new challenges and questions being raised by digital healthcare technologies, and these focus mainly on trust, transparency and data management.

    Will patients trust decisions made by software, rather than people? How clear can we be about how decisions or results are arrived at, when this is done by an algorithm? How will the data gathered be used, stored and managed – and who owns that data?

    The regulatory bodies are themselves still battling with many of these questions, though some changes are already in the pipeline.

    New EU regulations for medical devices (MDR) and in vitro diagnostic medical devices (IVDR) due to be introduced place more stringent requirements on the majority of digital technologies – essentially any that affect diagnostic or therapeutic decisions.

    This will result in a more onerous regulatory process which has caused some companies to revise their strategies.

    The challenge of AI in Health Tech

    The EU’s Ethical guidelines for trustworthy Artificial Intelligence (AI)’ set out factors which need to be continuously evaluated and addressed throughout the AI systems lifecycle and this will impact on all health technologies that use AI or machine learning.

    A key difference in a medical device that’s built on machine learning is that it’s not set in stone once developed.

    Unlike a more traditional device, an algorithm is intended to be dynamic and evolve over time which means it can keep improving and changing as it learns more from more data.

    We’re supporting a project at the University of Bradford using machine learning to assess the quality of donated organs for transplant.

    Assessing organ quality is complex, requiring multiple factors to be taken into account and some subjectivity can’t be avoided.

    As such, individual surgeons, teams and hospitals can come up with different assessments for the same organ. The surgeon conducting the transplant has to make the final call – a very difficult decision, particularly with organs of marginal quality.

    Professor Hassan Ugail is developing an algorithm that can score organs more objectively, by combining multiple data sets – including lab test results and patient survival rates – with a colour spectrum analysis that has been shown to relate to quality.

    The aim is to combine the expertise of multiple professionals into one assessment tool that grades the organ to give the transplant surgeon more confidence of success, so that no organ is unnecessarily rejected.

    The regulation for technologies such as this may still be uncertain, but at Grow MedTech we don’t let this block development in any way.

    Instead, we carry out horizon scanning, identifying the trends and ensuring projects put in place the elements they are likely to need for likely future regulation, to mitigate any risks.

    This usually means showing project teams have considered those key issues of trust, ethics, transparency and data management. These can be addressed by ensuring end user or patient involvement, or by bringing in specialist expertise.

    Combining expertise

    A project we’re supporting at Sheffield Hallam University, involves Dr Lynne Barker, who is working with a software development house with no previous experience of medtech.

    We’ve brought in a regulation specialist to work with the company, to ensure they fully audit and evidence the necessary steps during development to meet regulatory requirements.

    The technology is based on a test – in the form of a cooking exercise – to assess cognitive function in people with traumatic brain injury, stroke or mild cognitive impairment (the precursor to dementia).

    In trials, the test was able to distinguish between the three conditions. Patients with mild cognitive impairment didn’t complete the ‘meal’ on time, those with stroke usually forgot an ingredient whereas those with traumatic brain injury tended to undercook the food.

    The software company is now developing this into an app that can go into clinical trials.

    At Grow MedTech, we’re supporting more and more digital healthcare technologies or projects that combine digital with other technologies.

    These are often exciting projects to work with, as the speed of development can be much faster than traditional medtech. But however rapid the development itself is, there’s no substitute for properly assessing the potential for commercialising the technology.

    And this is where our help and support, for digital as for other technologies, can really make the difference.

  5. Dragons’ Den success for sleep apnoea experts from Sheffield Hallam University and Sheffield Children’s Hospital

    A team of academics and clinicians from Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) and Sheffield Children’s Hospital (SCH) triumphed in a Dragons’ Den-style pitch competition to win £10,000 of medical technology funding.

    The money will be used to advance the development of a device that utilises innovative method to monitor central sleep apnoea in young children and infants.

    Led by medical engineer Professor Reza Saatchi, the project team comprised of Professor Heather Elphick, Dr Ruth Kingshott and Dr Nicki Barker from SCH, alongside Dr Ruth Evans and Anthony Jones from SHU. 

    The team impressed Grow MedTech’s panel of independent dragons with their plans for technology that can help clinicians to monitor the respiratory condition in children and infants.

    Central sleep apnoea, which affects around 1% of all infants, is a type of breathing disorder that occurs during sleep and causes individuals to pause their breathing. These incidents can be serious enough to require hospital admission.

    Reza Saatchi, Professor of Electronics at SHU, said: “We are delighted to have won the prestigious Grow MedTech Pump Prime competition. There is currently a clinical need for a reliable and cost-effective device that allows home monitoring of infants and children with central sleep apnoea, and it is testament to the strength of our 15-year research and innovation partnership with Sheffield Children’s Hospital that we have succeeded in winning this highly competitive research prize which allows us to meet this important medical need.”

    The competition was part of Growing MedTech Translation 2019, a Leeds-based event hosted by Grow MedTech. The event brought together more than 100 delegates from the medtech sector to hear talks from innovators and to network.

    Alongside the dragons – made up of medtech experts and patient representatives – delegates at the conference were able to vote for their favourite research innovation, for which the SHU/SCH team also came out on top.

    The £10,000 Pump Prime funding and innovation support is to be used to de-risk and advance the development of the technology towards commercialisation and being used by patients. There are currently needs for a device that can be used to achieve accurate, reliable, easy to use, child-friendly and cost-effective home monitoring of central sleep apnoea.

    The SHU/SCH project focuses on the paediatric population, but the technology is equally applicable to adults and can reduce NHS costs by monitoring patients at home to allow more timely detection and treatment.

  6. We are hiring: Administrative Assistant

    This is an opportunity for an enthusiastic, efficient, creative and flexible administrative assistant to join the Medical Technologies Innovation team.

    The University of Leeds has significant capabilities that support the development of new medical technologies and these are united under a single gateway – Medical Technologies at the University of Leeds.

    Medical Technologies encompasses several major research and innovation programmes and projects: the Medical Technologies Innovation and Knowledge Centre, Translate MedTech and Grow MedTech hosted by the Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering at Leeds.  

    Grow MedTech, funded through Research England’s Connecting Capability fund, is a collaborative partnership between 6 Yorkshire universities (LeedsBradfordYorkHuddersfieldSheffield Hallam and Leeds Beckett) which aims to develop and share best practice in the translation and commercialisation of medical technologies.

    It brings together the best minds in engineering, biological development, design and manufacturing together with industry to drive medical technology products into everyday use to improve the quality of life for people across the world.

    You will be an experienced administrator with experience of arranging and servicing meetings and events, taking minutes, diary management, raising purchase orders and arranging travel. You will have a flexible, proactive approach and excellent communication skills.

    To explore the post further or for any queries you may have, please contact: 

    Dr Josephine Dixon-Hardy, Director of Medical Technologies Innovation

    Tel: +44 (0) 113 343 0920 or email: J.E.Dixon-Hardy@leeds.ac.uk 

  7. Grow MedTech annual report now available for download

    Growing MedTech Translation 2019 - front cover image

    The 2019 Grow MedTech annual report is now available to download. Featuring 17 case studies ranging from artificial intelligence to health and medical engineering, the report demonstrates how Grow MedTech is supporting innovation in medical technologies in the Leeds and Sheffield City Regions.

    We’re extremely proud of the progress that we’ve made since our programme launch, but we know our work doesn’t stop here.

    If you are developing a medical technology and could benefit from our experties, funding or the combined capabilities of our six partner universities, contact one of our Technology Innovation Managers.

  8. Dr Rosie McEachan announced as keynote speaker at Growing MedTech Translation 2019

     Dr Rosie McEachan, Director of the Born in Bradford Research programme, is confirmed as the keynote speaker for Growing MedTech Translation 2019.

    Rosie is an applied Public Health Researcher, passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of communities. She works with a range of health, education, voluntary sector and local authority stakeholders to develop and evaluate innovative interventions to improve health and reduce inequalities.

    She has attracted over £45 million in research funding (with £9 million as Principal Investigator) from international research funders and published over 80 peer reviewed journals.

    About Born in Bradford

    Born in Bradford follows the health and wellbeing of over 40,000 Bradford residents to explore why some families stay health and why others fall ill. It is the cornerstone of Bradford’s unique role as ‘ City of Research’.

    Findings are used to develop new and practical ways to work with families and health professionals to improve the health and wellbeing of our communities.

    Their mission is simple: to conduct rigorous and applied health research that improves the health and wellbeing of families in Bradford and beyond.

    Their research falls into three key areas:

    • The Born in Bradford Study: this monitors the health and wellbeing of over 13,500 children, and their parents to review the ways that our genes, lifestyle, local environment and services we access come together to affect our health and well-being.
    • Better Start Bradford Innovation Hub: this study aims to recruit 5000 families living in selected areas of Bradford to see the impact of early life interventions on the health and wellbeing of mothers and children.
    • Catalyst for change: Using the findings from their studies, Born in Bradford have developed a range of additional research projects which are evaluating and developing new interventions to improve health.

    About Growing MedTech Translation 2019

    After a successful launch last year, Grow MedTech and Translate MedTech are back with a 2019 Annual Conference – a unique opportunity to learn more about current medtech being developed in the Leeds and Sheffield City Regions.

    The conference will bring together our vast community of academics, industrialists, clinicians, innovators and funders to enjoy lively, interactive presentations and networking.

    The event is currently sold out, but you can register for our waiting list to be notified if new tickets are released.

  9. Decision tool gets to the heart of the problem

    Patients making choices about healthcare treatments need to fully understand their options, but unfortunately this does not always happen as well as it should in clinical practice.   

    Grow MedTech is funding the development of a digital tool to help patients with heart disease to make more informed decisions about their treatment.

    The new device is based on funded research, led by Professor Felicity Astin from the University of Huddersfield. The research team studied the way the process by which patients opted for a treatment called coronary angioplasty happened and surveyed the views of patients and cardiologists at ten NHS Trusts in England.    

    Coronary angioplasty (CA) is one of the most common medical procedures worldwide and involves opening up partially blocked arteries in the heart. When this treatment is given to  people with stable heart disease unpleasant symptoms of angina can be relieved.

    Professor Astin discovered that these patients were often opting for this treatment without a clear understanding of the risks and benefits – often mistakenly believing it would reduce their risk of future heart attacks.

    Crucial funding

    The multidisciplinary team – working with the NIHR Devices for Dignity MedTech Cooperative – decided to develop a digital decision aid that could be used by patients and health professionals to work together to ensure that patients are making informed choices about CA.

    However, they struggled to find a funding source to cover the crucial gap between research findings and a prototype device – until they discovered Grow MedTech.

    “There’s limited funding around for establishing feasibility and creating a prototype,” says Dr Emma Harris, Research Fellow in Patient Education and Communication at the University of Huddersfield.

    “The support, contacts and commercial advice we’ve had from Grow MedTech has been fundamental in helping us to take the project forward.” 

    Using the Grow MedTech Proof of Feasibility award, the team set up a working group involving expert patients, doctors and nurses working in cardiology, academics with expertise in cardiology care and decision aid development) and Devices for Dignity with their technological expertise.

    They’ve run two workshops, one with patients who’ve undergone CA and the other with cardiology healthcare professionals, to get vital input on the content and working of the decision tool.

    A personal decision

    Based on this consultation, the team are now developing the content, while Devices for Dignity develop the software side. The tool is being designed to not only help patients understand the general risks and benefits of the treatment, but also what it might mean personally for them, in terms of their hobbies, future travel plans, medication side effects or lengths of hospital stay, for example.

    Once the prototype is ready, it will be tested with patients who’ve recently undergone a CA and with cardiologists and nurses. This will involve twenty participants across two NHS trusts, to help understand how the tool can be made flexible enough to fit into different healthcare pathways.

    “Involving end users, both the patients and the clinicians, in the design of the tool is a critical part of the project,” explains Dr Harris. “Ultimately this tool can help them both – ensuring clinicians are able to do their job well in terms of informed consent and that patients make the best decision for them personally.

    “It’s been really helpful to have Dr Luke Watson, our Grow MedTech Technology Innovation Manager, to go to for advice on the commercial side. He’s worked directly with Devices for Dignity on issues such as IP and copyright, freeing us up to do what we do best – the research and work with stakeholders.”

    Professor Astin agrees: ‘We want to ensure that the research has an impact on clinical practice to improve patient care and the Grow MedTech support is helping to make this happen.”

  10. Accelerating the pace of advanced material development

    The pace of advanced material development is accelerating rapidly and nanotechnology, sophisticated computational modelling and material science are allowing us to design and modify materials that solve problems in radical ways. 

    These new materials are creating high value markets but it can take decades for these materials to turn into commercially successful products —and this needs to change.

    In 2013 the UK government included advanced materials as one of the “Eight Great Technologies” in which the UK is set to be a global leader.

    In the UK businesses that produce and process materials are essential to the UK economy. They employ over 2.6 million people, create 15% of GDP and generate sales in UK of £170bn pa.

    Grow MedTech’s approach is to harness these advances in new materials and apply them to create novel medical devices to meet unmet clinical needs. 

    By recognising the vast potential of advanced materials and the need to test markets and develop applications rapidly, we support teams to operate at speed to develop their technologies and de-risk the innovation for future investments.   

    The growing interest and excitement in advanced materials is also reflected in the decision of major research and innovation funders in both the UK and EU to target advanced materials within their portfolios. 

    This is especially true in medical, health and wellbeing research funding programmes. Examples include the importance of this research for smart-related health systems, bio sensors, optical sensors, micro and nanoelectronics and smart nano- and bio-materials.

    Narrowing the focus

    Advanced materials can have applications in several industries and so getting the right partnerships in place at the start is crucial to help researchers narrow the focus of projects towards the most distinct clinical applications.

    These decisions can be tough to make when the properties of a new material have many potential applications. 

    Grow MedTech supports teams to explore their technologies and ensures a robust commercial case can be made for new developments.

    At the University of Bradford, for example, a team led by Professor Anant Paradkar has developed a biocompatible liquid crystal material, called ‘Self-Gel’ which has several applications including, wound care, assisting surgery and imaging & sensing.

    Grow MedTech has supported Professor Paradkar in assessing the clinical need and commercial viability for several end applications. The next step is to direct the focus towards one particular product: developing the material as an injectable ‘cushion’. 

    This innovation will reduce the risk of perforation and haemorrhage during polypectomy procedures and so make the surgical procedure safer whilst offering the patient a faster overall procedure time.

    Overall, this will increase work flow within the NHS and support the NHS to meet the increased demand from an ageing population who are all looking for increased outpatient-type services. 

    “Support from Grow MedTech has also enabled us to build a strong strategic relationship with the NHS supply chain,” says Professor Paradkar. “We have recently signed a collaboration agreement with Huddersfield Pharmacy Specials (HPS) – a manufacturer owned by the NHS – and we will work with HPS to scale up this technology and industrialise for market”

    Tackling big healthcare questions

    Because advanced materials have properties and capabilities that have never before been seen in healthcare, they are providing ways to tackle extremely common, yet intractable problems that place a huge burden on patients, on healthcare systems and on the economy.

    One of the biggest of these is back pain. More than 10 million adults in the UK suffer from lower back pain (LBP) and it is the leading cause of disability in England, representing 11 per cent of the disability burden of all diseases and costing the economy some £10.7 billion each year in sickness days, work loss and care costs.

    At Sheffield Hallam University, Grow MedTech is supporting a team, led by Professor Christine Le Maitre and Professor Chris Sammon, to develop an injectable biomaterial that could replace a number of different current therapies.

    These include painkillers, physiotherapy, or invasive spinal fusion surgery – an operation used as a last resort and often with limited success.

    As with many other advanced materials projects, Grow MedTech has worked with the team to help narrow down the product development field.

    One product now in development, called Bgel, works to promote new bone formation, offering the possibility of safer and more effective spinal fusion without the need for metal implants and rods.

    A Grow MedTech Proof of Feasibility grant will enable the team to explore the use of Bgel in cows’ tails. These are an effective substitute for the human spine and will enable the team to carry out early-stage tests to see if a simple injection of Bgel can effectively fuse discs together.

    Exploring new directions

    Once a technology has been proven for its selected application, researchers will often explore further directions for development.

    A great example of where this approach has worked extremely successfully is at the University of Leeds, where acellular biological scaffolds are being developed to repair and replace human tissue.

    Called dCell®, the technology has been commercialised through Tissue Regenix and products for woundcare and cardiovascular applications have already reached the market. 

    New ways to apply these dCell techniques are continually being explored. Dr Jennifer Edwards, a post-doctoral research fellow in Leeds’ School of Biomedical Sciences, has been awarded Grow MedTech Proof of Feasibility funding to investigate ways to remove cells from donated adipose tissue.

    The aim is to produce an implantable product that surgeons can use in reconstructive surgery without triggering an immune response. Working in collaboration with NHS Blood and Transplant, Dr Edwards’ team is looking particularly at developing decellularized fat pads that can be used to treat diabetic foot ulcers.

    These kinds of approaches show the incremental improvements and developments that are possible following the invention of a new material.

    We don’t know, yet, what other applications will be discovered for dCell technology, but by helping bring together researchers from different disciplines  with relevant industry and clinical partners, we’ll be giving each great new idea the best possible launchpad.