The University of Bristol is leading a new £12m project to look at the use of sensors for healthcare in the home.
The SPHERE (Sensor Platform for HEalthcare in a Residential Environment) project will work in partnership with Bristol City Council, IBM, Toshiba and Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) as well as the Universities of Southampton and Reading
The collaboration will develop home sensor systems to monitor the health and wellbeing of people living at home.
The high-tech future of healthcare: a digital health assistant in your home The UK’s healthcare system faces unprecedented challenges. Britain is the most obese nation in Europe and the country’s ageing population is especially at risk from isolation, depression, strokes and fractures caused by falls in the home. A pioneering new collaboration aims to address these issues by developing a 24/7 digital home health assistant.
“SPHERE aims to have a profound impact on the health and wellbeing of people with a wide range of different health challenges,” said Professor Ian Craddock, Director of the collaboration and who will be leading the interdisciplinary team. “Families, carers, health and social services professionals involved in all stages of care will benefit from the system. SPHERE will address real world challenges by developing a practical technology to monitor people’s health in the home environment, targeting health concerns such as; obesity, depression, stroke, falls, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases. ”
“Although healthcare budgets and changing demographics are creating serious challenges, the latest technological advances can help society keep pace with this environment,” said Rodric Yates, Program Director in IBM’s Chief Technology Office. “We were pleased to be invited by the University of Bristol to join this important project and will contribute by drawing upon some of the best examples from around the world in healthcare sensing, medical data collection and analysis, and the delivery of healthcare systems. Improving patient care in a cost-effective way and helping people stay independent, for longer, is an objective we share with the University and the city.”
David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said: “New British technologies are transforming healthcare and saving lives. In future, our smart phones will tell us when we are ill, controlling the spread of infectious diseases. As healthcare challenges become more complex, our world-class scientists are of finding the next generation solutions.”
Cllr Barbara Janke, Cabinet Member for Connected Cities and Wellbeing said: “This is excellent news and further establishes Bristol’s reputation as a leader in smart technologies. This award means that we’ve now attracted £26 million over the last year in funding for high tech development.”
The collaboration’s vision is not to develop fundamentally-new sensor technologies for individual health conditions, but rather to impact all these healthcare needs simultaneously through data-fusion and pattern-recognition from a common platform of non-medical/environmental sensors at home. The system will be general-purpose, low-cost and accessible. Sensors will be entirely passive, requiring no action by the user and suitable for all patients, including the most vulnerable.
An example of SPHERE’s home sensor system could be to detect an overnight stroke or mini-stroke on waking, by detecting small changes in behaviour, expression and gait. It could also monitor a patient’s compliance with their prescribed drugs.
Importantly, SPHERE will work hand-in-hand with the local community through Bristol City Council and its partners at KWMC. Leading clinicians in heart surgery, orthopaedics, stroke and Parkinson’s disease, and recognised authorities on depression and obesity will also be involved with the project, along with the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research, Bristol Health Partners and Bristol’s NIHR-funded Biomedical Research Units.
Professor Jeremy Tavaré, Deputy Director of the collaboration, comments: “The involvement of patients, carers, nurses and clinicians from the outset of this project will be key in ensuring acceptability of these exciting new technologies.” Once practical, user-friendly technologies have been developed further, they will be piloted in a large number of homes over extended periods of time. The University of Southampton has UK-leading expertise and lab facilities for studying movement in stroke and Parkinson’s disease rehabilitation, and also conducts research into falls and impaired balance.
Professional William Harwin in the School of Systems Engineering at the University of Reading, adds: “The production of ubiquitous and unobtrusive ‘passive sensors’ is a key constituent part of this project. These sensors could be embedded in clothing or jewellery, or more ambitiously implanted, possibly in association with remedial surgery. “Information from these sensors will monitor and track the signature movements of people in their homes and trigger a response in accordance with health needs. This will enable health care experts to respond as appropriate.”
The money awarded to the University of Bristol by the EPSRC is part of a wider package of £32 investment in three new healthcare IRCs. The other two projects are: Early-warning sensing systems for infectious diseases – next generation smartphone test and tracking systems for serious infections including new strains of influenza, MRSA and HIV – led by UCL (University College London) with Newcastle University, Imperial College London, and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Multiplexed ‘Touch and Tell’ Optical Molecular Sensing and Imaging – a fibre-optic device to detect potentially fatal lung conditions in intensive care patients, and to continuously monitor the blood in critically ill adults and babies without the need for blood sampling. This is led by the University of Edinburgh with Heriot-Watt University and the University of Bath.
The fund will start in January and is part of the new EC Horizon 2020 programme which also starts in 2014 and replaces FP7 and CIP. Crucially, a part of this support is aimed at entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs because these are seen as providing the engine for the economic recovery as, being nimble and fast, they can bring these new innovative technologies to market quickly.
However the details of how the fund will be dispersed have not yet been fully decided or how SMEs can apply. If this can be an open process that is easy to access it would be a dramatic shift in the opportunities for startups and SMEs, but the challenge is in the detail of the implementation
“The EC recognises that these small to medium sized companies are the champions of tomorrow and we want to help them grow and be successful,” said Pierre Marro, Policy Officer at the European Commission. “Currently, EC programmes and projects required several companies from a minimum of three different countries to co-operate. The new EC Horizon 2020 is being finalised at the moment. This is being designed to add a completely new package with simplified procedures and without these constraints of co-operations to specifically provide new technologies holders with help in starting and running companies right through to finance help. Lack of finance has been a stumbling block in the past due to the economic crisis, so a key new service in Horizon 2020 will be dedicated to providing access to finance with new instruments dedicated to SMEs and access to risk financing that will really help companies grow quickly and create new jobs and economic wealth.”
Tuesday 14th May 16:00 pm to 19:00 pm
Offices of Osborne Clarke, Central Bristol (Close to Temple Meads)
This event is aimed at the region’s Science and Technology businesses, sponsored by the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Osborne Clarke LLP. All sizes of business are welcome to attend. Come and find out about funding opportunities for our region’s science and technology businesses. This workshop features speakers from the West of England LEP, Enterprise Europe Network/UKTI and Science City Bristol. They will provide you with information on a number of local and national funding opportunities including:
- Regional Growth Fund 3 Applications
- EU funding opportunities
- UKTI Business support
- South West Innovation Vouchers
Light refreshments will be available courtesy of our hosts at Osborne Clarke. For more information and to book a free place, go to:http://www.sciencecitybristol.