A Brand New Call
For researchers looking to build experience in Healthcare Technologies, there is a new funding opportunity. EPSRC has launched an open call for discipline-hopping in healthcare technologies to encourage researchers from across EPSRC's remit to broaden their horizons and immerse themselves with others with experience in different aspects of healthcare technologies research. Here's the story of one clinician who discipline-hopped early in his career: Dr Kev Dhaliwal, University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian.
Chemistry and Medical School
When I was doing my A-levels, with the aim of getting into Medical School, I wondered whether Chemistry and Maths would be useful. Indeed, also thinking back to Physics at GCSE, I wondered at that time again how much of it would I use looking after patients?
Fast track to 23 years later and now discipline hopping, collaboration and interdisciplinarity are at the core of what I love doing because it is absolutely clear to me, as a clinician and a scientist, that the applied physical sciences are unlocking and, that they will unlock imperceptibly massive advances in healthcare.
My own discipline-hopping experience happened during my Medical Research Council-supported PhD where I wandered into the office of a smiling chemistry professor asking for a chemical strategy to label cells. I was then introduced to a lovely, friendly and bubbly chemistry student and a great chemistry team and we just started to play with cells and chemistry. From that point onwards, all of my scientific projects have involved chemistry and team work, and have led to translational and commercial outputs and interactions. My work to date has principally involved working in teams to develop and evaluate novel interventional imaging approaches in patients and with colleagues developing regulatory, ethical and development pathways to expedite clinical translational.
Proteus and IRC
It was an amazing, career-forming experience to rediscover chemistry and experience discipline-hopping and now I would encourage anyone to do it. Recently as part of Proteus - an EPSRC Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC) - I have had the privilege of working alongside an exceptional and broad team of physical scientists spanning chemistry, optical physics, machine learning, signal processing and engineering. The IRCs are centres of internationally-acknowledged scientific and technological excellence; they are large-scale investments which involve several universities together with industrial partners and have sufficient critical mass to make a significant impact in areas of key industrial relevance to the UK. Our collaboration, Proteus, is developing novel photonic fibre-based imaging and sensing platforms for mechanically ventilated critically ill patients. Proteus is developing and translating new ways to understand and visualise disease in the human lung through pushing new boundaries in photon detectors, optical fibres, chemical probes, mathematical algorthms and engineering biocompatible devices. My role in the IRC is to lead the interdisciplinary hub and alongside my clinical colleagues, provide the clinical steer. As often as I can, I take my colleagues on ward rounds with me in the hospital to see patients or sit in clinics. When we do this, we chat about what simple technology or approaches could make a massive difference and my colleagues in the physical sciences can't quite believe how much 'low hanging fruit' there is, as there is a huge void of knowledge about real human disease. Many solutions exist or can be modified to have a dramatic effect on healthcare delivery and clinical workflows.
It is vital that we develop strong collaborative relationships so that we can understand each other's needs, capabilities, and limits. Physical scientists who hop into clinical or industrial or other environments will see at first hand, the myriad of challenges but also opportunities to revolutionise healthcare. Vice versa and similar to my path, clinicians who discipline hop into the physical sciences will begin to understand capabilities and will literally see a 'Pandora's box' opening for medicine. The biggest challenges we face in modern healthcare, will only be addressed through interdisciplinary team science, collaboration and innovation. I am excited about the EPSRC's call and hope it leads to many transformative journeys and friendships in collaborative science.