Healthcare technology at Birmingham

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham

“There is ever-increasing demand to deliver new technologies that allow us to more rapidly diagnose and better treat patients. Advances in medicine mean we are living longer than ever before. Our chances of survival following devastating, life-changing events are also higher than ever before.”  

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There is ever-increasing demand to deliver new technologies that allow us to more rapidly diagnose and better treat patients. Advances in medicine mean we are living longer than ever before. Our chances of survival following devastating, life-changing events are also higher than ever before. However these successes lead to major challenges; we’ve extended life expectation, but there is no commensurate improvement in the quality of life to match the longer life-span.

This demand has led to a rapid increase in the amount of research undertaken to develop new healthcare technologies. Academics from the University of Birmingham are developing technologies to change the healthcare landscape. The impact of this major research will improve practices in a number of areas including healing without scarring; early detection for diseases such as cancer and brain damage following head injury; and improved prosthetics.

A range of research is being undertaken to address a number of healthcare issues:

Healing without scarring: Wounds to the surface of the body as a consequence of trauma or disease can cause significant problems through infection or long-term deformity through scarring. Currently, 65% of trauma victims suffer from problematic scarring, some of which can remain for the rest of their lives. Infection and problems with bone growth are also concerns for victims of trauma. Researchers in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences are working with colleagues from the Medical and Dental School to develop new technologies that will minimise the impact of scarring both on the skin and the eyes.

Early detection: Early diagnosis of disease, from osteoarthritis to cancer, and identification of brain injury at an early stage can give patients a better chance of full functional recovery. At present, such technologies can be invasive, unreliable and expensive. We are investigating rapid real-time chemical and biological detection methods that will allow clinicians to make important decisions and improve long-term outcomes.

Better prosthetics: There are currently 3 million people in the UK who suffer from osteoporosis. Osteoarthritis affects more than 25% of the UK’s over 50s. By 2040, one in ten adults will be diagnosed with diabetes, with a potential impact on the health of eyes or limbs. While prosthetics and implants are designed to match patients’ geometries and native tissue, infection after installation is not uncommon. At present prosthetics and implants are not particularly cost effective to install, nor do they have a long lifespan. Researchers at the University of Birmingham are working together to make better, longer-lasting prosthetics that will allow patients to return to full function earlier and help them to maintain quality of life for as long as possible.

The demand to develop technologies is evident everywhere you look on the University of Birmingham Edgbaston campus. With research groups striving to develop new sensor technologies and treatments that encourage better tissue healing and rehabilitation tools. In recognition of this burgeoning activity, this year, the University of Birmingham, in collaboration with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB), Aston University and other supporting partners, will launch a new Institute in the area of healthcare technologies to address creating a physical focal point for this research. The Institute, which has received funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the University of Birmingham, will help move healthcare technologies developed across the campus rapidly into clinic. These technologies will develop more effective patient treatment and recovery, will be cost-effective to use, and will ensure a more comfortable and better quality of life for all. The Institute will also support the development of existing markets and stimulate new ones for small and medium sized Life Sciences businesses, enabling them to bring products to market quickly, at less cost with reduced risk.

Through this Institute, we will change the landscape of healthcare technologies. We will develop novel, bespoke prosthetic devices that have better functions for the patients. We will find new ways to develop bone and bone structures. We will support tissue regeneration and improve anti-scarring dressings. We will work on new methods of detecting brain injuries and cancers early. Through our research, we will aid healing and make a difference to patients with debilitating conditions. At the University of Birmingham, we will ensure people are able to live longer, healthier and happier lives.

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