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Assistive technology, rehabilitation and musculoskeletal biomechanics

Engineering solutions for rehabilitation and independent living incorporating replacement, restoration or enhancement of sensory, motor and/or cognitive functional capability for people with disabilities or chronic conditions. In this context, biomechanics is used to describe the use of methods that allow the study of forces and their effects on the musculoskeletal system under static and dynamic conditions.


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.

Current investments

For information on current EPSRC investments in this research area, please see Grants on the Web (GoW).

EPSRC investments on 01 April 2011

Assistive technology, rehabilitation and muskuloskeletal biomechanics is 2.6% of EPSRC's total investment in Engineering related research areas.

Assistive technology, rehabilitation and muskuloskeletal biomechanics is 2.6% of EPSRC's total investment in Engineering related research areas.

Number of EPSRC Grants 1, 2 Value of Grants 1, 3
64 £26.3M
  1. Based on number and value of current grants (excluding training grants) on 01 April 2011.
  2. Grants are classified using one or more research area. The number of grants listed does not reflect the proportion assigned to different research areas and thus all grants of some relevance to the research area are counted.
  3. Grants are classified using one or more research area. The value of investment does reflect the proportion assigned to different research areas.

Current major EPSRC research investments include:

  • Two Programme grants: Bio Tribology of Articular Cartilage and Substitution Interventions, Professor J Fisher, University of Leeds, and ESPRIT with Pervasive Sensing, Professor G Yang, Imperial College London
  • A Challenging Engineering award: Engineering solutions to back pain: an interdisciplinary approach, Dr R Wilcox, University of Leeds
  • The EPSRC/Wellcome Trust Centres: New solutions for osteoarthritis, Professor Ross Ethier, Imperial College London and 50 active years after 50: Professor John Fisher, Leeds University (jointly coded with the Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering portfolio)

EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training of relevance


2013 EPSRC Rehabilitation Scoping Workshop (PDF 583KB)
Report to identify challenges within Assistive Technology and Rehabilitation


Victoria Marlow