This broad area brings together a number of sub-fields, most of which have clinical and translational relevance for a wide variety of medical conditions, including osteoarthritis, stroke, spinal cord injuries, post-operative care, trauma, cognitive decline and mental health. The demographic shift to an increasingly older population will ensure that this research area continues to be of strategic priority for the UK.
Two key objectives for this area relate to the rehabilitation of trauma patients and to those with degenerative conditions, which impair personal function. Another focus for assistive technology is on the effects of rehabilitation where these are either limited or long term in nature. The overall aim of the research is to provide patients with the very best options which will allow them to maximise their functional capability and to contribute to their personal dignity and independence. The research base in the UK has been fuelling the growth of the medical technology sector within the UK, a sector with a combined annual turnover of £15bn (Strength and Opportunity 2011, BIS 2011).
EPSRC's research portfolio in this area has jointly supported a number of strategic leadership grants which show there are elements of world leading research taking place in this field. These include: two Programme grants, a Challenging Engineering award and two of the Medical Engineering Centres of Excellence co-funded through a strategic partnership with the Wellcome Trust (Imperial College London and the University of Leeds) which has helped to leverage additional funding. Although considerable effort has been made to improve connectivity across the portfolio, the research area has only supported a limited number of leadership awards in the past, we therefore propose to promote fellowship applications in this field in the near future. EPSRC has also worked to improve connectivity across Europe by partnering with the Assisted Living Innovation Platform.
The UK research community has the potential to transform research in the following areas: improved implants, next generation prosthetics and assistive devices, improved neuromusculoskeletal models addressing patient variance. By recognising the importance of giving multidisciplinary teams the opportunity to work closely with patients to gain an intimate knowledge of disability the impact of the broader portfolio of research in this area can be maximised. Collaboration between the engineers, neuroscientists, clinicians, industrial partners and users is key for the development of well designed and robustly tested assistive technologies that will translate from the lab environment to the home market in an efficient manner.
EPSRC will maintain investment in this portfolio, relative to other areas, and continue to align the research we support with other funders and users such as the TSB through the European Ambient Assisted Living Joint Programme. EPSRC has committed up to £1M to jointly fund UK projects with the TSB, allowing UK academic partners to apply for collaborative funding for the first time. We will also continue to work with the EPSRC Healthcare Technologies Challenge Theme and the RCUK Ageing: Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme around common healthcare agendas to jointly shape the focus of our research opportunities around key challenges.