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British Business Embassy days - Advances in assistive medical technologies

The "Advances in Assistive Medical Technologies" Summit held on 3 September 2012 included a visit to Stoke Mandeville – the home of the Paralympics, and sessions focusing on innovations in medical rehabilitation and monitoring sensors.

Speakers included David Lidington MP, Minister for Europe, the Medical Director of the NHS and Professor Yang from Imperial College, along with leaders of innovative companies such as McLaren Applied Technologies, Touch Bionics, Trekinetic and Blatchford.

As noted by David Lidington, Britain is a trailblazer for promoting the rights of disabled people, focusing on what people can do, rather than what they can't do. The UK medical technology industry includes 3,113 companies and generates £15 billion turnover and 64,000 jobs.

For much of the day, delegates visited Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire for an exhibition of a range of assistive medical technologies and a wheelchair rugby display. Stoke Mandeville’s National Spinal Cord Injuries Centre is the oldest and largest spinal injuries centre in the world.

Back at Lancaster House, sessions focused on innovations in medical rehabilitation and monitoring sensors.

Lessons from the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Programme (DMRP)

The DMRP has 15 regional rehab units that treat people injured on operations and uses a multi-disciplinary rehabilitation approach addressing the physical and psychological effects of a disability. It is a very good ‘customer’ for prosthetic technology and the unique military challenges – such as the need to fit prosthetics to severely damaged limbs – help to drive advances in technology. However, the most exciting part of rehabilitation and the area with the best lessons for the NHS, is that filling the gap not covered by prosthetics – particularly through regenerative medical technology (producing new cells to replace malfunctioning or damaged cells).

Innovations in sensors to monitor health and wellbeing were discussed by leaders from Imperial College’s Hamlyn Centre, Tarilian Laser Technologies and McLaren Applied Technologies

Key insights:

  • Lessons are being learnt from elite sports, which use sensors to monitor athletes;
  • Sensors attached to the ear are able to track multiple areas of the body without the need for separate sensors for each location;
  • There has been a revolution in blood pressure measurement through novel sensor technology. Sensors can be incorporated into credit card sized device, even into clothing. For example, McLaren has developed a very small modular measuring device that can be integrated into clothing or equipment and using adaptive algorithms can set up complex sensor networks. The results of which can be fed into a variety of sources;
  • Mobile technology is pushing advances and enabling monitoring to be done remotely, even internationally;
  • Powering the devices is a key issue;
  • Predictive analytics are being used to take the monitoring and decision-making away from humans – for health and safety reasons and to provide quick response times.