Assistive technology, rehabilitation and musculoskeletal biomechanics

Restoring function and/or enabling independence for older people, the disabled and those with long-term conditions. This research area draws on a wide variety of research in engineering, information and communication technologies (ICT) and physical sciences, and incorporates research into replacement, restoration or enhancement of sensory, motor and/or cognitive functional capabilities. Musculoskeletal Biomechanics is the use of methods that allow the study of forces and their effects on the musculoskeletal system under static and dynamic conditions.

Recognising the importance of this research area to a number of key societal challenges, we will maintain the size of the area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

By the end of the Delivery Plan, we aim to have:

  • Supported this research area to continue to be a diverse portfolio of interdisciplinary research which has strong engagement with both other research disciplines and stakeholders
  • Funded collaborative research where clinicians and patients are active members of the team from the earliest stages, to accelerate the impact of research on products and practice in healthcare settings
  • Continued to encourage and support research leaders in Assistive Technologies who can bring together multidisciplinary teams across research domains to tackle complex healthcare challenges and bring about the innovative research knowledge required in this area
  • Encouraged EPSRC researchers not active in this area to use the challenges faced in this domain as a stimulation to conduct innovative engineering and physical sciences research

Researchers are encouraged to co-create research plans with stakeholders to design projects that target unmet clinical/patient needs or offer significant improvement over current solutions. In this research area we wish to see greater consideration in proposals of topics in the Healthcare Technologies Theme Impact and Translation Toolkit.

As a multidisciplinary area, researchers should seek opportunities to work not just across EPSRC disciplines (including emerging research areas in ICT, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, and the Digital Economy) but also with allied fields including medicine, allied health, social sciences and psychology. (Evidence source 1)

Researchers in Musculoskeletal Biomechanics are particularly encouraged to collaborate strongly with other disciplines engaged in modelling and simulation, including mathematicians, to ensure that new breakthroughs in fundamental science can be applied in this domain. Researchers in Assistive Technology are encouraged to consider how their eventual solution will be taken to product and practice, and to maximise user engagement.

The two fields within this area have differing research drivers and stakeholder demands. During the Delivery Plan, we will explore new portfolio compositions to assess whether there is a better structural model for supporting them, along with allied research fields in the Clinical Technologies research area.

Highlights:

A number of societal challenges driving research in this area remain highly important for the UK. They include: the shift to an increasingly older population; restoring function, improving quality of life and enabling independence (including assistive living) for those with long-term conditions; the number of children born with and living with more complicated conditions; and the greater proportion of patients now surviving extreme trauma.

Research continues to be required for the next generation of solutions. In particular, development of fundamental understanding of the musculoskeletal system will help move towards patient-specific understanding and prediction, as well as development of bespoke assistive technologies which can intelligently meet the often complicated needs of patients and users.

Musculoskeletal Biomechanics is an established field. The UK has international standing and strength in simulation/modelling of physiological systems, particularly focused on biomechanics, with several centres of excellence and critical mass. (Evidence source 2) The community is closely linked with the UK orthopaedics industry (one of the largest components of the UK medical technology sector). (Evidence source 3) Research emanating from this community has underpinned many advances in orthopaedic understanding and products worldwide. The community also underpins other emerging fields, including developments in regenerative medicine.

Assistive Technology and Rehabilitation is a broad community with a number of key research groups across the UK. (Evidence source 4,5) It is, however, heavily supported by UK strengths in medical engineering, including medical robotics, sensing technologies and medical device design. (Evidence source 2) We encourage this support to expand to include other areas of excellence in our portfolio (e.g. ICT and the Digital Economy) and areas outside our remit (e.g. design/social sciences) to ensure patient acceptability, concordance and behavioural change.

Work has already been undertaken in the previous Delivery Plan to increase connectivity between active EPSRC researchers across the area (particularly in Assistive Technologies); this should continue to grow to encompass the wider community during the Delivery Plan period.

Supports a number of goals within the Healthy Nation Outcome and Healthcare Technologies Theme Grand Challenges, as well as the Productive and Connected Nation Outcomes. Relevant Ambitions include:

H5: Advance non-medicinal interventions

Both parts of the research area will deliver new interventions in terms of assistive technologies, prostheses and implants that will restore function with minimum invasiveness.

H3: Optimise diagnosis and treatment

Musculoskeletal Biomechanics will provide new understanding and insights to optimise diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disease and trauma, working towards patient-specific prediction and evidence-based treatments.

H1: Transform community health and care

Researchers are encouraged to take note of this Ambition and how Assistive Technology, living and rehabilitation can be delivered in non-traditional care settings, furthering people’s self-management of their assistive devices and their recovery.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Maintain

We aim to maintain this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Assistive technology, rehabilitation and musculoskeletal biomechanics (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Martin Champion
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Department: Healthcare Technologies
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444380