Medical imaging (including medical image and vision computing)

Research into medical imaging instruments and signals for therapeutic, monitoring and diagnostic purposes. This research area includes instrumentation, image visualisation and image interpretation.

By focusing investments in Medical Imaging research and training on our highest-priority areas, early-career researchers (ECRs) and the highest-quality research and training, we envisage a gentle contraction in the size of this research area over the period of the Delivery Plan, back towards its size in April 2012. Medical Imaging will continue to be one of the most generously funded areas within EPSRCs portfolio and remain one of the largest research areas as a proportion of the total portfolio.

Areas of high priority for this Delivery Plan include:

  1. Enabling earlier and more effective diagnosis of physical and mental health conditions, to inform treatment planning
  2. Therapeutic imaging during treatment to increase effectiveness and  improve patient outcomes
  3. Automated extraction and/or integration of existing and additional information from clinical data/images (e.g. via machine learning and/or mathematical science techniques)
  4. Affordable, portable imaging technologies suited to point-of-care environments globally, to reduce the current focus on a centralised, whole-body/large-subsection imaging facilities model (e.g. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, X-ray Computed Tomography, Positron Emission Tomography), (Evidence source 1,2).
  5. Integration of imaging and sensing data (e.g. from wearable sensors) at both the same and different length scales (from gene to cell to organ to whole body)
  6. Novel imaging technologies/modalities that address a demonstrable unmet clinical need and/or offer a significant benefit over current technologies, and have an identified place in the patient pathway
  7. Accelerating research impact in this area through strong engagement with relevant stakeholders throughout research and training programmes

The UK is an international leader in Medical Imaging research and training (Evidence source 2,3,4). The quality and quantity of research undertaken is second only to the US and, in several key areas, is ahead. Though clinically focused, this research area reflects the unique role of novel engineering, information and communication technologies (ICT), mathematical sciences and physical sciences research in facilitating disruptive and/or transformative breakthroughs in Medical Imaging technologies (Evidence source 5). Aspects of this research area are of potential relevance to Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding streams.

Research and training in some of the rapidly expanding areas (e.g. underpinning data analytics and image analysis technologies and methods such as deep learning and biomedical informatics) can be funded in other research areas. Funding for surgical and interventional sciences can also be found in the Clinical Technologies research area.

Although the action category for Medical Imaging in the last Delivery Plan was ‘Maintain’, EPSRC's Medical Imaging research area grew by 25% between April 2012 and April 2016, drawing funds away from other areas of research. Continued growth at the expense of investment in other research areas is not considered consistent with realising EPSRCs 2016-20 Delivery Plan ambitions.

Strategic funding opportunities for ECRs (specifically, Healthcare Technologies Challenge Awards) will remain open to applicants in Medical Imaging. Other such opportunities will be focused on our high-priority areas (e.g. Therapeutic Imaging was a focal area in a recent Healthcare Impact Partnerships call). In addition, peer review will consider investigator-led standard research grants and the highest-quality applications will continue being funded using EPSRC's standard processes. There will be funding opportunities for ODA-relevant research through the Research Councils (RCUK) Global Challenges Research Fund.

Highlights:

This research area is the largest in the Medical Engineering portfolio, with internationally leading research groups and individuals located at a number of UK institutions. EPSRC has made critical-mass investments both alone and in partnership with the Medical Research Council (MRC), The Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK. Four Medical Imaging EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) were funded in 2013, securing over £9.5 million in additional support from project partners. Research-base funding successes have ensured a demand for Post-Doctoral Research Assistants (PDRAs), with industry also requiring significant numbers of postgraduate recruits.

The medical imaging market is dominated by a few large multinational companies.  The small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector in Medical Imaging is also thriving, with companies often acquired by the larger organisations (Evidence source 2). Large pharmaceutical companies also have an interest in Medical Imaging technologies, especially the development of new imaging probes.

In 2014, the MRC co-ordinated the investment of over £74.5 million in Medical Imaging research infrastructure and associated equipment (e.g. High Performance Computing facilities). While this will primarily be used for clinical research, there are significant opportunities to undertake novel engineering, ICT, mathematical sciences and physical sciences research. The MRC/EPSRC Molecular Pathology initiative is another example of an interdisciplinary research opportunity with a strong imaging component.

Expected to contribute to many Ambitions, especially within the Healthy Nation Outcome. These include:

H1: Transform community health and care

Medical Imaging researchers can develop new portable imaging technologies suited to point-of-care environments, to reduce the current focus on a centralised, whole-body/large-subsection imaging facilities model (Evidence source 1,2).

H3: Optimise diagnosis and treatment

Researchers can contribute by developing new hardware and software that facilitates effective diagnosis, patient-specific prediction and evidence-based treatment planning (Evidence source 6).

H4: Develop future therapeutic technologies

Researchers can contribute by developing new image-led technologies to aid the targeting of therapeutic approaches.

H5: Advance non-medicinal interventions

Researchers can develop new technologies that help optimise surgery and other non-medicinal interventions to achieve high precision with minimal invasiveness.

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.

Reduce

We aim to reduce 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 medical imaging (including medical image and vision computing) (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: Dr Mark Tarplee
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Section / Team: Healthcare Technologies
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444408