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Nov 3

Director's Comment: Healthcare Engineering & Imaging in the Biomedical Research Centre renewal

Prof. Sebastien Ourselin

in News

Our Director offers his views on the recent announcement from the National Institute of Health Research on it’s nationwide Biomedical Research Centre competition and how the discipline of Healthcare Engineering & Imaging will play a role.

  • Details of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre Competition

  • On Wednesday 14 September the Department of Health announced the outcome of its recent funding competition for National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centres in England. These are collaborative centres between NHS trusts and Universities that have existing partnerships, leading the translation of lab-based discoveries into new cutting-edge clinical technologies, diagnostics, treatments and interventions.

    UCL received the biggest share of funding from the £816 million awarded nationally to extend its ground-breaking biomedical research. UCL is the only University to host three NIHR BRCs:

    • University College London Hospital BRC (awarded £111,503,317)
    • Great Ormond Street Hospital BRC (awarded £37,005,790)
    • Moorfields Eye Hospital BRC (awarded £19,075,000)

  • Engineering is a key part of the NIHR University College London Hospitals BRC

  • I am very pleased to report that the Faculty of Engineering is, for the first time, officially part of the NIHR University College London Hospitals BRC, where we are leading the cross-cutting activity in Healthcare Engineering and Imaging. This is a great achievement highlighting the outstanding strength of Healthcare Engineering within our Faculty and our close ties with UCLH.

    The award, which will cover five years from April 2017, represents a significant uplift to the funding granted to the NIHR University College London Hospitals BRC in 2011.

    The BRC’s five major research themes include: Neurological Diseases; Dementia; Cancer; Inflammation, Immunity & Immunotherapeutics & Cardiovascular Diseases. In addition, the new award will allow the BRC to embrace five new research themes: Infection & Antimicrobial Resistance; Mental Health; Obesity; Deafness & Hearing and Oral Health & Dentistry with Healthcare Engineering & Imaging a cross-cutting theme that pervades all of these.

    The international panel judging the funding award described the level of integration between the BRC’s partnership organisations UCLH and UCL as ‘outstanding’ and the quality, volume and breadth of research across the partnership as ‘excellent’.

    Professor Bryan Williams, Director of the University College London NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, comments:

  • “This is great news for patients and great news for our UCLH/UCL partnership. Our mission is to improve outcomes for patients with some of the diseases most difficult to treat. The involvement of Healthcare Engineering and Imaging as a cross-cutting theme is immensely important to our BRC and to future innovations in medical care.”

  • What does this news mean for the Institute?

  • Let me briefly describe the cross-cutting theme in Healthcare Engineering and Imaging (HE&I) led by our Faculty which will revolutionise patient care through the delivery of world-class technologies to address key unmet needs across clinical specialities.

    What are our short-term aims?
    • To establish an expert academic infrastructure (including an academic Contract Research Organisation [CRO] and Imaging Trials group) to sustain and support cross-BRC activities, enabling large-scale imaging trials, secure data management and cutting-edge analysis
    • To establish a cross-cutting HE&I Clinical Board with representation from each BRC clinical theme:
      • ensuring technological advances target key clinical problems;
      • enabling rapid transfer of existing technologies between themes;
      • maximising clinical impact of new technologies through cross-thematic application.
    What are our medium-term aims?

    To establish a cross-cutting HE&I platform focused on delivery of new technologies into the clinic. The platform will provide access to engineering/imaging equipment, tools, software and expertise, enabling effective, rapid and robust clinical translation and application of innovative HE&I solutions. Specifically, it will:

    • Deliver access to the latest imaging technologies available at UCLH/UCL;
    • Provide a seamless translational pipeline from proof-of-concept to change in NHS practice;
    • Facilitate efficient, rapid and robust systematic evaluation of novel imaging techniques/medical devices/healthcare software solutions;
    • Directly enable integration of proven technological solutions at the point-of-care.

    What are our long-term aims?
    • To transform clinical practice by incorporating state-of-the-art quantitative imaging and analysis as part of standard radiological assessment at diagnosis, treatment assessment, surveillance, and outcome prediction/prognosis across disease states;
    • To deliver pathologically, anatomically and physiologically optimal surgery by combining diagnostic-quality imaging and sensing with ergonomic smart instruments.
  • A strong fit and integration with the Institute of Healthcare Engineering

  • I think this news is a turning point for the Faculty of Engineering and its Healthcare Engineering strategy. We already have a long-standing history of collaboration between the School of Life and Medical Sciences in Healthcare Engineering; achievements to date include:

    • the first tissue-engineered trachea
    • smart wheelchairs that respond to the user’s environment
    • image fusion software for transperineal targeting of the prostate
    • micro-robotic surgical devices for retinal implants
    • automated algorithms to spot the early signs of dementia in MRI data
    • microbial resistant materials to fight superbugs in hospitals

    Although so much progress has already been made there is still great potential for new discoveries. The ways in which engineering disciplines can have an impact on healthcare are far-reaching and I’m certain that, with the success of the BRC renewal funding, we will be heavily involved in the next five years of research advancements.

    When going through the relaunch process for the UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering we put a great deal of thought into what our main drivers are. We wanted to ensure that improving patient care, be that through prevention, diagnosis, therapy or treatment, was at the forefront of our strategy and therefore research decisions. The fact that this aligns directly with the NIHR’s funding vision for the BRCs is critical.

    We are very lucky to work in an area where our research can make a difference to patient’s lives.