Fifteen projects announced 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 projects announced 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 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 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 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.
A collaborative project 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. 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.
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 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 the research funding partnership with the EPSRC.