EPSRC Healthcare Technologies Challenge Awards winners announced

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Eight researchers have been awarded grants to address long-term health challenges through the development of innovative healthcare technologies.

The recipients will share more than £8 million of funding to develop new solutions ranging from next-generation prosthetic hands and endoscopy devices to cancer treatment devices controlled by the body's electrical signals and optimising surgical interventions in the hip.

The funding has been allocated by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as part of the second Healthcare Technologies Challenge Awards call.

The awards will provide support to a new generation of research leaders to develop personal programmes of high quality, creative and multidisciplinary research, as well as supporting and growing their research groups.

They will collaborate with clinicians, healthcare professionals and industrial partners to inform, develop and translate their research through to application.

EPSRC Chief Executive, Professor Philip Nelson, said: EPSRC's Healthcare Technologies Challenge Awards are designed to equip the next generation of research leaders with the tools they need to tackle current and emerging health challenges facing society.

These awards will help them to develop novel therapies that enhance efficiency and reduce risks to patients; create prostheses and other devices to restore normal function; produce minimally-invasive physical interventions to repair damage or remove disease; and optimise treatment for the individual, improving health outcomes.

Summaries of the projects:

Multidimensional Endoscopy for Early Cancer Detection - EP/R003599/1

The project will look to improve the use of endoscopes, long, flexible tubes with a light and video camera to detect oesophageal or lung cancers, by designing specialist video cameras. The cameras will be designed to detect properties of light that human eyes are blind to, and will also allow for quick analysis of tissue taken out of the body before it is sent to a pathologist to check for cancer.

Led by: Dr Sarah Bohndiek, University of Cambridge

EPSRC grant: £1,117,121

Project partner: Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Polymer Bioelectronics for High Resolution Implantable Devices - EP/R004498/1

The implantation of bioelectronic devices such as cochlear implants, bionic eyes and brain-machine interfaces in the body can lead to inflammatory responses that are difficult to control. The programme will bring together concepts from tissue engineering, polymer design and bionic device technologies and look to create soft and flexible polymer bioelectronics that will improve cell interactions, prevent rejection and minimise scar formation.

Led by: Dr Rylie Green, Imperial College London

EPSRC grant: £1,053,480

MicroTotal Pre Analytical Systems (MTPAS): Near-patient Approach to the Preparation of Circulating Biomarkers for Next-Generation Sensing - EP/R00398X/1

Cell-free nucleic acids (cfNAs) can be used for rapid diagnosis and prognosis as biomarkers in blood sampling for cancer and sepsis diagnosis, and transplant monitoring but are not implemented clinically in daily practice due to a number of barriers, including cost. The project aims to develop sustainable new solutions to reduce the overall cost of sample preparation and increase the robustness and reliability of biomarkers. Novel advanced materials will be integrated in cartridges to allow instant preservation of the sample until analysis.

Led by: Dr Maïwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas, Heriot-Watt University

EPSRC grant: £946,812

Sensorimotor Learning for Control of Prosthetic Limbs - EP/R004242/1

Acquiring a new skill, for example learning to use chopsticks, requires accurate motor commands to be sent from the brain to the hand, and reliable sensory feedback from the hand to the brain. Inspired by this sensorimotor interplay, this project aims to utilise the flexibility of the brain in learning to control a prosthetic hand. Supported by a multi-disciplinary network of collaborators, the research will culminate in a clinical trial involving people with limb reduction.

Led by: Dr Kianoush Nazarpour, Newcastle University

EPSRC grant: £1,005,664

Adaptive, Multi-Scale, Data-Infused Biomechanical Models for Cardiac Diagnostic and Prognostic Assessment - EP/R003866/1

While heart failure, a complex syndrome that results in a fundamental reduction in the ability of heart muscle to effectively pump and deliver blood to the body, is easily observed, dissecting its underlying causes and predicting how it will progress or respond to therapy remain open challenges. The project will address these challenges by bringing together elements of microscopy, rheology and medical imaging to create a modelling framework to assess the heart and provide detailed information to aid diagnosis.

Led by: Dr David Nordsletten, King's College London

EPSRC grant: £1,101,075

Wireless Communication with Cells Towards Bioelectronic Treatments of the Future - EP/R004072/1

The project will develop new bioelectronic devices which will use electrochemical-based wireless technology to avoid invasive surgery, and can be applied to treating diseases such as cancer via the control of the body's electrical signals. It will look to increase understanding of how cellular electrical talk malfunctions underpin disease and broaden electroceutical therapeutic intervention from nervous system application to other cell and tissue types.

Led by: Dr Frankie Rawson, University of Nottingham

EPSRC grant: £950,798

Mathematical Modelling led Design of Tissue-Engineered Constructs: A New Paradigm for Peripheral Never Repair (NerveDesign) - EP/R004463/1

NerveDesign will develop new treatments for peripheral nerve injury, a debilitating condition which can cause loss of sensation and muscle control, chronic pain and permanent disability. The project will feature a multidisciplinary approach combining mathematical modelling with state-of-the-art in vitro and in vivo experimentation, to design and test devices to bridge the gap between damaged nerves.

Led by: Dr Rebecca Shipley, UCL

EPSRC grant: £1,054,517

Enhanced Surgical Treatments for Hip Osteoarthritis - EP/R003971/1

By developing an anatomical hip simulator, the project looks to improve the understanding of factors leading to impingement, a condition which can lead to hip replacements needing to be replaced themselves. This improved understanding will then lead to better guidance on how surgery should be performed, and researchers will work with orthopaedic surgeons to integrate it into clinical practice.

Led by: Dr Sophie Williams, University of Leeds

EPSRC grant: £998,918

Notes for Editors:

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate. By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

Reference: PN 69-17

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