A number of groundbreaking health projects have received £32m in government funding to help transform NHS healthcare delivery.
The new projects that will be receiving the funding are revolutionary new technological approaches that aim to transform care and treatments in the NHS by 2050, helping to improve people’s quality of life as they age. The projects include a walk-through cancer diagnosis, robotics muscles, non-Invasive Single Neuron Electrical Monitoring (NISNEM), multi-modal hearing aids, quantum imaging for monitoring of wellbeing and disease in communities, and ‘U-care’ which will exploit new laser, optical fibre and imaging technologies.
The projects were announced by Science Minister Amanda Solloway as part of a keynote speech on research and development at London Tech Week 2020 and follows the launch of the government’s R&D Roadmap in July 2020 which detailed plans to make the UK the best place in the world for scientists and researchers to live and work, building on the government’s commitment to increase R&D public spending to £22bn per year by 2024 to 2025.
Revolutionary cancer diagnosis
The walk-through cancer diagnosis project, InlightenUs, led by the University of Edinburgh, will receive £5.4m to use a combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and infra-red lasers to produce fast, high resolution 3D medical images, helping to identify diseases in patients more quickly.
Working with the universities of Nottingham and Southampton, the new research will initially be developed for use on hospital wards and GP surgeries, and by 2050 aims to scale up to walk through airport style X-Ray scanners, which will be able to pick up detailed images of structures often hidden within the human body that can reveal tumours.
Another of the six projects, emPOWER, will be led by researchers at the University of Bristol, and will receive £6m to develop artificial robotic muscular assistance to help restore strength in people who have lost muscle capability. This could include patients who have suffered a stroke or are living with degenerative diseases such as sarcopenia and muscular dystrophy.
Using these highly targeted robotics will help overcome the limitations of current wearable assistive technology of regenerative medicine. Often, these technologies can be bulky and uncomfortable to wear and can require two people to put on and take off. Users can also find the movements too slow. Through using robots, emPOWER will provide life changing benefits for sufferers, restoring their confidence, independence, and quality of life, all while reducing the cost to the NHS.
Solloway said: “The pioneering projects we are backing today will help modernise healthcare, improving all of our lives now and into the future. Today’s announcement is part of our ambitious R&D Roadmap and underlines our commitment to back our incredible scientists and researchers and invest in ground-breaking research to keep the UK ahead in cutting-edge discoveries.
“The funding is being delivered through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through the Transformative Healthcare Technologies for 2050 call.”
Innovation Minister Lord Bethell said: “Throughout this global pandemic, the NHS has continued to be there for us all and to treat cancer patients and those living with chronic illness as a priority. These pioneering new projects will help us further improve care for patients and make life easier for NHS staff, cementing the UK’s status as a world leader in research and technology and ultimately saving thousands of lives.”
Other projects receiving funding
The Non-Invasive Single Neuron Electrical Monitoring (NISNEM) will receive £5.5m to fund the projects, which when combined with AI will allow researchers to monitor the brain in a way never achieved before. This will help scientists gain a better understanding of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Led by Edinburgh Napier University, COG-MHEAR will receive £3.2m, to develop hearing aids designed to autonomously adapt to the nature and quality of their surroundings. Currently only 40% of people who could benefit from hearing aids have them, while most current devices make only limited use of speech enhancement. These hearing aids would be able to adapt to the nature and quality of the visual and acoustic environment around them, resulting in greater intelligibility of noise and potentially reduced listening effort for the listener.
The Quantum Imaging for Monitoring of Wellbeing and Disease in Communities project, will be led by the University of Glasgow, and will receive £5.5m to develop a project which aims to create a home of the future, providing homeowners with feedback on their health and wellbeing. This project will bring clinically approved sensors into the living environment which will enable individuals, carers, or healthcare professionals to monitor patients in the home.
The final project, U-care, will be led by Heriot-Watt University, in partnership with the universities of Bath and Edinburgh, and will receive £6.1m. The project will be using new laser, optical fibre, and imaging technologies, delivering therapy for bacterial diseases and viruses in confined regions of the body such as the lungs, where catheters inserted into the body for prolonged periods, and areas of the body that have been subject to surgical procedures. The platform will be able to cut out single cells leaving the cells around it undamaged in cancer surgery, aiming to offer a cure for currently unresectable tumours – tumours that are too close to critical structures and cannot be cut away safely with current approaches.