Government announces £32m in R&D funding for futuristic healthcare projects

Robotic muscles and walk-through X-ray scanners are among new projects to receive Government investment under plans to boost healthcare research and development (R&D) spending.

A total of £32 million in investment has been pledged as part of an aim to increase overall UK R&D spending to £22 billion a year by 2024-25.

Making the announcement during a speech on R&D at London Tech Week, Science Minister Amanda Solloway said six new projects would be backed, each aimed at using technology to transform care and treatment in the NHS by 2050.

One of the projects being backed is InlightenUs, led by the University of Edinburgh, which is to receive £5.4 million to develop its medical imaging technology that uses a combination of artificial intelligence and infra-red lasers to quickly produce high-resolution, 3D medical images to help identify diseases in patients.

Also involving the Universities of Nottingham and Southampton, the project hopes to scale up the technology by 2050 to work in airport-style walk-through X-ray scanners which will be able to quickly spot any issues in patients.

University of Bristol project emPOWER is to receive £6 million of funding to develop robotic, artificial muscles designed to help restore strength in people who have lost muscle capacity.

The researchers said the aim of the technology is to overcome the limitations of current wearable assistive technology, which they argue can be too bulky and uncomfortable, and instead restore independence and quality of life while reducing costs to the NHS.

“The pioneering projects we are backing today will help modernise healthcare, improving all of our lives now and into the future,” said Ms Solloway.

“Today’s announcement is part of our ambitious R&D Roadmap and underlines our commitment to back our incredible scientists and researchers and invest in ground-breaking research to keep the UK ahead in cutting-edge discoveries.”

Other projects to receive backing include a new, non-invasive system for monitoring the brain, which researchers say could help scientists gain a better understanding of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Non-Invasive Single Neuron Electrical Monitoring (NISNEM) is led by Imperial College London and will receive £5.5 million in funding.

COG-MHEAR, a new type of hearing aid which autonomously adapts to the acoustic environment around it to help the wearer, has also been backed to the sum of £3.2 million for its researchers at Edinburgh Napier University.

A University of Glasgow project to develop a home of the future, able to monitor and give feedback on the health of occupants, is to receive £5.5 million in funding.

U-care, led by Heriot-Watt University, in partnership with the Universities of Bath and Edinburgh, will receive a £6.1 million investment to support its research into new laser, optical fibre and imaging technologies which could help improve precision in surgery and treatment.

The technology will be able to cut out single cells, and therefore offer a cure for currently unresectable tumours – those which are too close to critical structures and cannot currently be cut away safely.

Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, executive chairwoman of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which is delivering the funding, said: “The projects announced today will develop new approaches which could become routine in the NHS and community and home care in the coming decades.

“Harnessing the latest technologies and the UK’s world-leading expertise will allow us to deliver a step-change in how healthcare is delivered and benefit millions of people, emphasising the critical role the UK’s R&D sector plays in improving the health of the nation.”