The Universities of Nottingham, Oxford and Warwick are leading ‘blue sky’ research into artificially-intelligent medical devices that will improve treatment for cancer and intensive care patients and those with chronic wounds.
The future technologies will continuously monitor critically-ill patients and administer medicines or adjust treatment automatically, using feedback from built-in sensors. The aim is to provide more personalised, accurate and timely care and, ultimately, to save lives.
For the next three years, Professor Stephen Morgan, from the Faculty of Engineering at Nottingham, will head up a network of experts in healthcare technologies, sensing, clinical care, control and modelling to identify potentially innovative clinical tools and approaches.
Professor Morgan will be supported by:
• Dr Serhiy Korposh, a lecturer in nanoscale bioelectronics from the Department of Electronic and Electrical engineering at Nottingham;
• Professor Jonathan Hardman, a clinical professor in anaesthesia and critical illness from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Nottingham and an NHS consultant anaesthetist;
• Professor Helen Byrne of the Mathematical Institute at the University of Oxford;
• Professor Declan Bates from the University of Warwick whose research focuses on the modelling, analysis, control and design of complex biological systems
They are focusing attention on devices that will use a similar closed loop control system of feedback and intelligence as used in power electronics for control of motors - along with mathematical models used in machine-learning for artificial intelligence (AI).
High tech devices
High-tech sensors will monitor patients’ vital signs, while mathematical models will inform med- tech designers how the body is predicted to work or how a disease such as cancer behaves.
“Although this is a very simple systems model, in practice, implementing personalised and optimised treatment using closed loop control is a challenging engineering and physical sciences problem requiring a multidisciplinary approach and this will be facilitated by the proposed network,” explains Professor Morgan, a biomedical sensing expert.
The network, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will focus its research in three clinical areas: (i) critical care; (ii) chronic wounds; (iii) cancer treatment.
Over 100,000 patients are admitted to intensive care units in the UK per year. Survivors of critical illness commonly have a care requirement post-discharge from hospital and many experience reduced cognitive function.
Meanwhile, a substantial proportion of the worldwide burden of cancer could be prevented with early detection and better treatment.
Benefits to patients and NHS
Similarly, 200,000 patients in the UK have a chronic wound with the cost to the NHS conservatively estimated at £3bn per year, around three per cent of the total estimated expenditure on health. With proper diagnosis and treatment, much of this burden could be avoided.
Professor Morgan said: “The advent of massive computer power, highly sensitive, specific and flexible sensors, and precisely delivered treatments has finally allowed closed-loop control systems to offer a revolutionary leap in medical treatment.
"The intensive care unit, for instance, provides a highly controlled and technology-friendly environment that favours the development of closed loop control and so there are excellent opportunities to make rapid progress in optimising treatment and advancing the proposed technology.”
'Game changing' technology in hospital treatments
A potential game-changer in intensive care could be a device that uses sensors to continuously monitor a patient’s breathing for irregularities and automatically tailor the amount of oxygen being provided, and to personalise the forces used to ventilate the patient’s lungs, in order to improve their condition.
Smart wound dressings, comprising fabric embedded with sensors that check for infection and even administer antibiotic drugs to accelerate healing, represent another example of the technology that may meet future healthcare challenges.
Grand Challenge workshops
A series of three Grand Challenge workshops will be held early in the project involving academic experts, clinicians, patients and other stakeholders. The workshops, one in Wound Care, one in Critical Care and one in Cancer Treatment, will develop a shared understanding of the clinical challenges, technology and techniques available.
They will also highlight challenges faced by patients and identify the most appropriate monitoring and treatments for closed loop control.
The workshops will produce a roadmap for the development of closed loop control systems for optimising treatment with a view to developing new research that address major healthcare challenges. Where there are gaps in knowledge or proof of concept data does not exist then these will be addressed through a series of eight feasibility projects funded by the network.
The network has wider support from seven UK academic institutions (Cranfield, Kings College London, Leicester, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Warwick), three international academic institutions, four hospital trusts, five industry partners and other stakeholders such as patient groups, Medilink East Midlands, the East Midlands academic health sciences network and the Woundtec healthcare technology cooperative.
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK for research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.
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