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Major funding boost for internationally-recognised healthcare research centres

A woman with wearable technology on her arm SPHERE-IRC

Press release issued: 11 December 2017

Three interdisciplinary research consortia, including the University of Bristol's SPHERE project, have been allocated more than £11 million to continue healthcare sensing systems research that is revolutionising how we identify and respond to outbreaks of infectious diseases, diagnose and manage lung diseases, and recognise and solve emerging health and wellbeing issues in the home environment.

Science Minister Jo Johnson announced additional funding for the three Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Interdisciplinary Research Collaborations (IRCs) last week ]Thursday 7 December]. When partner funding is included, almost £14 million is being invested in the three IRCs.

He said: "This additional £11 million investment will enable vital collaborations to continue addressing many of the most pressing health and wellbeing issues, boosting the UK's status as an innovation nation.

"Research and development are central to building a Britain that’s fit for the future. Through our new Industrial Strategy and further investment of £2.3 billion, we are working with industry to remain at the cutting edge of scientific discovery."

EPSRC's IRCs are centres of internationally acknowledged scientific and technological excellence, bringing together researchers, clinicians, industry and other professionals to make a real impact in areas of key future industrial relevance to the UK.

The three IRCs are:

-        i-sense, led by UCL, is engineering a new generation of agile, early-warning sensing systems to identify outbreaks of infectious diseases such as HIV, MRSA and flu much earlier than before, helping people gain faster access to care and protecting populations

-        PROTEUS, led by the University of Edinburgh, is pioneering new fibre optic, sensing, imaging and signal processing approaches to revolutionise how lung diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia are diagnosed and managed within the intensive care environment

-        SPHERE (Sensor Platform for HEalthcare in a Residential Environment), led by the University of Bristol, is developing sensors for use in the home in order to spot health and wellbeing problems ranging from depression and obesity to cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases

The next steps funding announced today will provide the IRCs with the support they need to become three self-sustaining centres of excellence in the respective areas of sensing in healthcare.

All three IRCs have made significant progress in their first four years; researchers at PROTEUS developed a camera that can 'see' through the body and have; a team at i-sense has developed mobile phone-connected tests to diagnose infections, including HIV and Ebola, in low resource settings; and SPHERE was named as the winner of the health and technology category at the 2016 World Technology Awards.

EPSRC Chief Executive, Professor Philip Nelson, said: "It is through innovative thinking and collaboration that we will address the biggest health and wellbeing issues facing society, and these three IRCs are the embodiment of that approach.

"They have already achieved a great deal in their first four years, and this additional funding will provide a springboard for them to realise yet more of their great potential and become thriving centres of excellence."

The three IRCs were initially established in 2013 with a £32 million investment by EPSRC. The IRCs Next Steps funding will support activities at the IRCs following the end of their current grants, in September 2018.

Further information

Full summaries of the three IRCS:

i-sense: EPSRC IRC in Early Warning Sensing Systems for Infectious Diseases – EP/R00529X/1
i-sense’s mission is to engineer a new generation of early warning sensing systems for infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance. By harnessing the power of mobile phones, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, genomics and big data, the team aims to track, test and treat infections much earlier than ever before, helping people gain faster access to care and protecting populations. IRC Next Steps funding will maximise the impact of i-sense, retaining key staff and delivering a step change in new capabilities to respond to emerging infections. In addition, i-sense will leverage over £10 million to support its transition to a National Centre of Excellence.

Led by: Professor Rachel McKendry, UCL
EPSRC grant: £3,800,000
Total grant value: £4,800,000

Partners: Imperial College London, Newcastle University, University of Surrey and Glasgow Caledonian University, in partnership with Public Health England, Africa Health Research Institute, Royal College of General Practice, Francis Crick Institute, National Institute for Health Research University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre and industry partners

PROTEUS – EP/R005257/1
PROTEUS is revolutionising how lung diseases are diagnosed and managed within the Intensive Care environment. Researchers have designed and constructed a fully integrated multi-colour imaging system, which in combination with novel optical fibres and new detectors allows sensing and imaging deep in the human lung. They have synthesised a range of chemical probes with the ability to detect and signal the presence of disease that enables the rapid and accurate diagnosis of bacterial infection. PROTEUS has a strong translational agenda with multiple patents filed and undergoing active exploitation, and four compounds that have entered first in-human studies.

Led by: Professor Mark Bradley, University of Edinburgh
EPSRC grant: £3,800,000
Total grant value: £4,800,000
Partners: Durham University, University of Bath, Heriot-Watt University, UCL

SPHERE: a Sensor Platform for Healthcare in a Residential Environment – EPR005273/1
SPHERE is working with clinicians, engineers, designers and social care professionals as well as members of the public to develop a number of different sensors that combine to build a picture of how we live in our homes. This unique technology, already being piloted at scale in homes, gives information that can then be used to spot issues that correlate to a medical or well-being problem. Combining wireless networks, wearables, video analytics and machine learning, the priorities for the technology are that it must be: acceptable in people’s homes; solve real healthcare problems in a cost effective way; and generate knowledge that will change clinical practice.

Led by: Professor Ian Craddock, University of Bristol
EPSRC grant: £3,600,000
Total grant value: £4,500,000
Partners: Bristol City Council, Bristol Health Partners, Digital Catapult and We the Curious

About the 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.

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