Fifteen projects announced today, 31 January 2018, will develop new healthcare technologies to tackle international health challenges, ranging from the prevention of limb loss by Syrian refugees to faster diagnosis and treatment for parasitic diseases such as malaria.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) are committing £16 million to the projects: EPSRC through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the NIHR through the NIHR Global Health Research programme.
The GCRF is a £1.5 billion government fund that harnesses the strength of the UK’s research base to support cutting-edge, multidisciplinary research that addresses complex global development challenges. The NIHR Global Health Research program is an Official Development Assistance (ODA) fund that delivers internationally-outstanding applied global health research for the direct and primary benefit of patients and the public in low and middle-income countries (LMICs).
The projects announced today are designed to address two key challenges.
The first is the development of affordable, robust, reliable and portable imaging and diagnostics tools that can be used to diagnose and monitor both infectious and non-communicable diseases. Projects were required to ensure that the technologies developed are transportable to remote locations and can be used by non-experts.
The second challenge posed in the call is the development of prosthetics and orthotics that combine both novel approaches and technology, and functionality through their affordability, robustness, reliability and fitness for purpose in low or middle income countries.
One project, led by Professor Paulo Jorge Bartolo at The University of Manchester, aims to develop treatments for refugees fleeing Syria that, through creating ‘bone bricks’ to treat large bone loss injuries, will prevent them losing limbs. The proposed low-cost, biodegradable prostheses can be manufactured using 3D printing and implanted, preventing infection and promoting bone regeneration.
Another, led by Professor Rajkumar Roy at Cranfield University, will look to develop, prototype and test freehand ultrasound scanning devices that can be used in remote locations in India and other countries, improving antenatal care and reducing the mortality rates of both infants and mothers.
Another project, led by Professor Jonathan Cooper at the University of Glasgow, aims to tackle the prevalence of parasitic diseases such as malaria and schistosomiasis which together infect more than 415 million people across the world, and affect many more. The team aim to design and manufacture paper DNA diagnostic tests, combined with imaging technology that can be used on mobile phones, to provide point-of-care testing in remote locations that can help to enable appropriate and rapid treatment.
And a collaborative project led by Professor Anthony Bull at Imperial College London, is looking to develop prostheses for use by through-knee amputees, such as land mine victims in Cambodia, that will provide greater functionality and can be manufactured locally at low cost.
Science Minister Sam Gyimah MP said: “The UK is a world leader in science and innovation and these projects draw together our expertise to help tackle some of the biggest health challenges faced by developing countries including malaria and poor antenatal care.
“The funding committed by the EPSRC and the National Institute for Health Research will help significantly improve the quality of life for some of the world’s poorest people.”
EPSRC Chief Executive, Professor Philip Nelson, said: “Responding to healthcare challenges in low and middle income countries can require the development of innovative new approaches; key factors include affordability, portability and the requirement for point-of-care operation in often remote locations.
“The projects announced today ensure that these necessities are incorporated into healthcare solutions that have the potential to transform many lives.”
Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department of Health and Social Care, said: “The NIHR is committed to supporting collaborative research which improves health in low and middle income countries.
“This call supports researchers from the UK and developing countries to directly address the health needs of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. We are pleased to be able to invest in these innovative technologies, as part of our research funding partnership with the EPSRC.”