EPSRC invests £32m in projects to develop smart systems and sensors
10 May 2013
The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has
awarded £32m to establish three new "Healthcare Interdisciplinary
Research Collaborations" (IRCs) to focus UK research excellence and
build critical mass in this area
The projects will be run by ten universities and involve 18
industry and academic partners. The IRCs will focus on research that
can create or use new ICT applications and technologies to determine
and/or sense physical and environmental factors, and integrate,
analyse and interpret this data to inform decisions on patient
The total investment into the three IRCs is £41 million: £32
million coming from EPSRC and a further £9 million investment from
the Universities and project partners.
The technologies being developed are:
- early-warning sensing systems for infectious diseases —
next-generation smartphone test and tracking systems for serious
infections including new strains of influenza, MRSA and HIV, led
by UCL with Newcastle University, Imperial College London, and
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
- Multiplexed ‘Touch and Tell’ Optical Molecular Sensing and
Imaging — a fibre-optic device to detect potentially fatal lung
conditions in intensive care patients, and to continuously
monitor the blood in critically ill adults and babies without
the need for blood sampling. Led by the University of Edinburgh
with Heriot-Watt University and the University of Bath.
- SPHERE: Sensor Platform for Healthcare in a Residential
Environment — a 24/7 digital home health assistant. Sensor
technology to monitor patient’s health in their own homes
targeting obesity, depression, falls, stroke, cardiovascular and
musculoskeletal diseases. Led by the University of Bristol with
the University of Southampton and University of Reading.
Dave Delpy, CEO of EPSRC said: “Today’s healthcare challenges are
many and complex; designing and integrating technologies that will
help clinicians to diagnose and monitor patients is where the
cross-disciplinary research we are funding at these IRCs can play a
vital role. EPSRC funds projects that can make a real difference to
people’s lives, the efficiency of our healthcare system and to the
Early-Warning Sensing Systems for Infectious Diseases
Led by University College London, together with Newcastle
University, Imperial College London, and The London School of
Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Project partners: Microsoft Research,
OJ-Bio Ltd, Mologic Ltd, Cambridge Life Sciences Ltd, Zurich
Instruments, O2 Health, UCL Partners: Newcastle Hospitals NHS
Foundation Trust. EPSRC Grant awarded: £11 million; total project
investment £17 million.
This IRC will develop next generation smart phone technologies
that allow doctors to test and track serious infectious diseases –
such as new strains of influenza, HIV and MRSA - much earlier than
ever before, empowering patients to gain faster access to treatment
and protecting the public.
Infectious diseases are one of the greatest threats to human
health. Early diagnosis plays a vital role in treatment, care and
prevention. However, worldwide, many infections remain undiagnosed
and untreated or are diagnosed at the late stage due to poor
diagnostic tools. The result is on-going transmission of serious
infections and delays in the identification of emerging threats such
as pandemic influenza.
This IRC will develop low cost, easy to use smart phone-connected
diagnostic tests based on advances in nanotechnology to rapidly
diagnose infections in community settings including GP surgeries,
elderly care homes, developing countries or even at home. Results
will be sent securely to healthcare systems, alerting doctors to
potentially serious outbreaks with geographically linked
information. The system will also track reported illness and
symptoms across populations by searching millions of on-line sources
including internet searches and social media posts to identify
outbreaks even before people attend clinics or from resource-limited
Worldwide there are an estimated 6.8 billion mobile phone
subscriptions and 2.7 billion people on-line, with rapid expansion
in developing countries.
Dr Rachel McKendry, Director of this IRC, explains: “A new
generation of diagnostic test and tracking systems could save
millions of people from deadly diseases such as new strains of
influenza, HIV and MRSA. The revolution in mobile communication,
nanotechnology, genomics, and ‘big data’ analysis offers tremendous
opportunities to ‘actively’ manage outbreaks and ultimately to
prevent infectious diseases. I am delighted to bring together some
of the very best researchers in the UK to create innovative 21st
century technologies in the battle against infectious diseases.”
The IRC will bring together critical mass and multi-disciplinary
expertise in biomarker discovery, biomimetic capture coatings,
nanosensing systems, nanoparticles, microelectronics, microfluidics,
wireless networks, data mining and health economics.
To meet the needs of end users, the team will work closely with
leading NHS clinicians from UCL Partners and Newcastle Hospitals NHS
Trusts, NIHR Biomedical Research Centres, Public Health England,
industry, regulators, patient groups and the public. The centre also
benefits from links to more than 100 countries in Africa, Asia and
Multiplexed ‘Touch and Tell’ optical molecular sensing
Led by the University of Edinburgh, with Heriot-Watt University
and the University of Bath. Project partners: ST Microelectronics
Limited, Carestream Health, Edinburgh Biosciences Limited, UK
Astronomy Technology Centre. EPSRC Grant awarded: £9 million, total
project investment £11 million.
The IRC will bring together a group of world class scientists and
clinicians to design make and test a cutting-edge bedside technology
platform - a small fibre optic probe which can be inserted into the
patient’s lung, blood vessels or other parts of the body such as the
digestive, genitourinary or reproductive tracts.
Initially the research will focus on patients in intensive care
units (ICU), and critically ill babies. The probe will help doctors
in the ICU make rapid and accurate diagnoses that would inform
therapy and ensure patients get the right treatment, quickly.
Potentially fatal lung complications are a common problem in
ventilated ICU patients. Currently, doctors caring for these
patients in the ICU face many challenges, often needing to make snap
decisions without the information necessary to properly inform their
choices. The technology platform developed in this programme will
give doctors important information on the conditions of ICU patients
and whether they have infections, inflammation or scarring in their
Using advanced fibre optic technology, micro-electronics and new
sensor arrays the ground-breaking solution is to create a novel
fibre-based probe that can readily be passed into the gas exchanging
areas of the lung and blood vessels of ICU patients.
The probe will house a variety of special optical fibres, some of
which allow clinicians to ‘view’ inside the lung while others will
be modified with sensors that can measure important parameters such
as oxygen concentration and acidity in both blood and lung in
real-time. In addition the fibre will deliver 'smart reagents' that
detect specific bacteria and viruses and sense other processes that
can damage the lung.
When integrated together these signals will provide highly
specific information about the degree and type of lung damage and
the potential causative 'bug' if an infection is suspected. Because
of the large amount of information generated and in order to make it
easily interpreted by doctors, computing experts will convert these
signals into easy-to-understand disease readouts.
Research will also look at improving healthcare for critically
ill babies by using the probe. Critically ill babies often need to
have blood samples taken to test for oxygen and acid levels – by
inserting a probe into their circulation these levels will be
continuously monitored without the need for taking the blood from
Professor Mark Bradley, Director of the Edinburgh IRC who will be
leading the interdisciplinary team, said: “This fantastic team of
multi-disciplinary scientists and clinicians will work seamlessly
together to produce a solution to radically improve how disease is
detected, monitored and treated in critically ill patients.”
SPHERE: Sensor Platform for Healthcare in a Residential
This is led by Professor Ian Craddock, University of Bristol,
with the University of Southampton and University of Reading.
Project Partners: IBM United Kingdom Limited, Toshiba Research
Europe Limited, Bristol City Council, NIHR BRU Nutrition, Diet &
Lifestyle, Bristol Health Partners, and Knowle West Media
Centre(KWMC). EPSRC Grant awarded: £12 million, total project
investment: £15 million. Grant ref: EP/K031910/1
Britain’s obese and ageing population is at risk of isolation,
depression, strokes and fractures caused by falls in the home.
SPHERE will develop a 24/7 digital home sensor system to monitor the
health and wellbeing of people with different health challenges
living at home.
An example of SPHERE’s home sensor system could be to detect an
overnight stroke or mini-stroke on waking, by detecting small
changes in behaviour, expression and gait. It could also monitor a
patient’s compliance with their prescribed drugs.
Professor Ian Craddock, Director of this IRC, said: “Families,
carers, health and social services professionals involved in all
stages of care will benefit from the system. SPHERE will address
real world challenges by developing a practical technology to target
health concerns such as; obesity, depression, stroke, falls,
cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases.”
The system will be general-purpose, low-cost and accessible.
Sensors will be entirely passive, requiring no action by the user
and suitable for all patients including the most vulnerable.
Home medical sensor technology is seen by many engineers and
academics as the future, however, it will also be seen by many in
society as a highly-invasive and undesirable replacement for
SPHERE’s community and user-centric approach to developing a
low-cost useable home sensor platform is proposed as the ideal
environment to develop a sensor system that is of value to clinical,
industrial and citizen stakeholders.
SPHERE will work hand-in-hand with the local community. It will
develop practical, user-friendly technologies and pilot systems in a
large number of homes over extended periods of time. Leading
clinicians in heart surgery, orthopaedics, stroke and Parkinson’s
disease, and recognised authorities on depression and obesity will
also be involved.