Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Assistive technology, rehabilitation and musculoskeletal biomechanics

Assistive technology research aims to restore human function and enable independence for older people, the disabled and those with long term conditions. Musculoskeletal biomechanics is the study of forces and their effects on the musculoskeletal system.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Research in this area enables the prediction, understanding and restoration of human function and enables independence for older people, the disabled, those with mental health conditions and those with other long term health conditions.

This area draws on a wide variety of research in engineering, information and communication technologies (ICT) and physical sciences, and incorporates it into replacement, restoration or enhancement of sensory, motor and cognitive functional capabilities. Musculoskeletal biomechanics is the use of methods that allow the study of forces and their effects on the musculoskeletal system under static and dynamic conditions.

Aims

Recognising the importance of this research area to a number of key societal challenges, we have four aims.

Interdisciplinary research

We support a diverse portfolio of interdisciplinary research which has strong engagement with both other research disciplines and stakeholders.

Collaborative research

We fund collaborative research where clinicians, patients, industry and the wider stakeholder community are active members of the team from the earliest stages. This is to accelerate the impact of research on products and practice in healthcare settings.

Multidisciplinary teams

We encourage and support research leaders in assistive technologies who can bring together multidisciplinary teams across domains to tackle complex healthcare challenges and bring about the innovative knowledge required in this area.

Bring researchers into this area

We encourage EPSRC researchers not active in this area to use the challenges faced in this domain as a stimulus to conduct innovative engineering and physical sciences research.

What we are looking for

Researchers are encouraged to co-create research plans with stakeholders to design projects that target unmet clinical or patient needs, or offer significant improvement over current solutions.

In this research area we wish to see greater consideration in proposals of topics in the Healthcare technologies theme impact and translation toolkit.

Assistive technology and rehabilitation technology is a multidisciplinary area. Researchers should seek opportunities to work across EPSRC disciplines, including emerging research areas in:

They should also seek opportunities to work with allied fields, including:

  • medicine
  • allied health
  • social sciences
  • sports science
  • psychology.

Researchers in musculoskeletal biomechanics are particularly encouraged to collaborate strongly with other disciplines engaged in modelling and simulation, including mathematics. This is to ensure that new breakthroughs in fundamental science can be applied in this domain.

Researchers in assistive technology are encouraged to consider how their eventual solution will be taken to product and practice, and to maximise user engagement.

The two fields within this area have differing research drivers and stakeholder demands. We are exploring new portfolio compositions to assess whether there is a better structural model for supporting them, along with allied research fields in the Clinical technologies research area.

Why we're doing it

Assistive technology and rehabilitation technology research enables the prediction, understanding and restoration of human function. It can also enable independence for older people, the disabled, those with mental health conditions and those with other long-term health conditions.

A number of societal challenges driving research in this area remain highly important for the UK.

They include:

  • the shift to an increasingly older population
  • predicting, understanding and restoring function, improving quality of life and enabling independence for those with long-term conditions – including for those in assistive living
  • the number of children born with and living with more complicated conditions
  • the greater proportion of patients now surviving extreme trauma.

Research continues to be required for the next generation of solutions. In particular, development of fundamental understanding of the musculoskeletal system under both static and dynamic conditions will help move towards patient-specific understanding and prediction. It will also help with the development of bespoke assistive technologies which can intelligently meet the often complicated needs of patients and users.

Musculoskeletal biomechanics is an established field. The UK has international standing and strength in simulation and modelling of physiological systems, particularly focused on biomechanics, with several centres of excellence and critical mass.

The community is closely linked with the UK orthopaedics industry which is one of the largest components of the UK medical technology sector. Research from this community has underpinned many advances in orthopaedic understanding and products worldwide. The community also underpins other emerging fields, including developments in regenerative medicine.

Assistive technology and rehabilitation is a broad community with a number of key research groups across the UK. It is, however, heavily supported by UK strengths in medical engineering, including medical robotics, sensing technologies and medical device design.

We encourage this support to expand to include other areas of excellence in our portfolio and areas outside our remit, such as design and social sciences, to ensure patient acceptability, concordance and behavioural change.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for assistive technology,rehabilitation and musculoskeletal biomechanics.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Who to contact

Alexandra Sklan, Healthcare Technologies

Email: alexandra.sklan@epsrc.ukri.org

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