Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Healthcare technologies theme

The healthcare technologies theme supports research across Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)’s remit. The aim is to accelerate translation to healthcare applications.

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

The scope and what we're doing

The healthcare technologies theme supports research across EPSRC’s remit. The aim is to accelerate translation to healthcare applications. In order to achieve this, we aim to address four grand challenges:

  • developing new therapies: focusing on the need to produce safer, more targeted treatments fit for the demands of the decades up to 2050 and beyond
  • expanding the frontiers of physical intervention: the potential to enhance established techniques and develop pioneering new approaches to such intervention that deliver high precision, minimal invasiveness and maximum impact
  • transforming health and care beyond the hospital: meeting the need for novel technologies that enable timely interventions beyond hospital settings and help people manage their own physical and mental health
  • optimising disease prediction, diagnosis and intervention: addressing both physical and mental health with techniques that optimise patient-specific illness prediction, accurate diagnosis and effective intervention.

Diagram describing the healthcare technologies strategy.

Our vision

The vision of the healthcare technologies theme is to accelerate the translation of EPSRC research to healthcare applications by:

  • building critical mass around UK research strengths in computational, engineering, mathematical and physical sciences that underpin healthcare
  • maximising business, charity and clinical engagement in research, thereby increasing translation to products and practices.

Strong features of the theme are:

  • focusing on the highest priority healthcare challenges and the research capabilities that will address them
  • partnerships with other funders to encourage translational research and open up pathways to impact
  • providing support for environments that promote multidisciplinary research and training
  • stimulating creative and transformational approaches to address unmet clinical needs and improve patient outcomes.

Developing new therapies

Flexible, adaptable processes for manufacturing high-quality therapies

In a world challenged and changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the unrelenting drive to tackle existing and emerging diseases by harnessing engineering and physical sciences to develop new therapies must continue apace. This challenge focuses on the need to produce safer, more targeted treatments fit for the demands of the decades up to 2050 and beyond.

By enabling earlier intervention, and more accurate, less invasive, more affordable action, these will not just prevent, slow or reverse deterioration in physical and mental health but also enhance quality of life by eliminating or alleviating symptoms. There are several ways that research could do this.

Advanced technologies ready for clinical trials

Research could include but will not be limited to projects delivering multiscale computer modelling, adaptive design and data analytics, for example. This can not only cut time-to-market for new therapies but can also pinpoint opportunities for repurposing drugs to target additional diseases, maximising the benefits of investing in drug development.

Advanced technologies to enhance drug delivery

Research could include but will not be limited to projects delivering these technologies to  boost the effectiveness with which novel drugs and other pharmaceutical substances:

  • target specific places in the body
  • achieve controlled release of their active ingredients
  • deliver more than one active ingredient at a time.

Flexible, adaptable processes for manufacturing high-quality therapies
Research could include processes that will be capable of cost-effective scale up to enable mass production of medicines – for example, to tackle epidemics. It could also include processes that will be capable of scale down to produce personalised medicines, such as regenerative therapies using patients’ own cells.

Innovative technologies for regenerative medicine

Research could include innovative technologies that will:

  • enable development of new materials to promote tissue growth
  • creation of human organs in the lab – avoiding the need to rely on donors when damaged organs need replacement or repair
  • optimisation of the capabilities of donated organs and tissues and maximisation of the benefits they deliver.

In-silico, in-vitro and biomarker technologies for use in drug discovery

Research could include use of these technologies to cut drug development costs and minimise the need for animal testing. These will enable rapid prediction and measurement of:

  • drugs’ therapeutic impact
  • their interactions with target molecules in the body
  • side-effects.

Research and innovation can make a key contribution to all the pivotal goals this challenge addresses, from better prevention and earlier diagnosis to improved treatment, better outcomes and faster recovery.

Expanding the frontiers of physical intervention

From provision of prostheses to surgery and radiotherapy, effective physical intervention is fundamental to tackling impairment by restoring function, repairing damage and eliminating disease. This challenge focuses on the potential not just to enhance established techniques but also to develop pioneering new approaches to such intervention that deliver high precision, minimal invasiveness and maximum impact.

This is a sphere where the scope for technological breakthroughs to improve lives is truly huge. Advances could, for instance:

  • address the effects of ageing, injury and illnesses that limit function
  • tackle the impact of global pandemics and crises such as COVID-19
  • tackle the impact of diseases such as cancer that exacerbate and accelerate function loss.

Similarly, they could embrace physical and digital devices, or use whole body or more targeted approaches.

There are several ways that research could do this. By catalysing advances like these, this challenge aims to reinforce the role of physical interventions in maintaining and enhancing function, and their contribution to optimising healthcare.

Advances in physics modelling and image-guided treatment planning

Research could improve lives by increasing the precision and targeting of surgical procedures and radiotherapy. These advances will ensure fewer side effects, faster recovery times and better overall outcomes.

Affordable new methods for precision targeting of non-ionising radiation

Nanoscale devices and other innovations will revolutionise treatment of cancer, for example, by improving the efficacy of radiotherapy and reducing side effects.

Bioelectronic devices

Providing long-term sensing and control capabilities will help to re-establish function, reduce pain and assist recovery.

Lightweight exoskeletons and balance-training devices

Supporting movement and helping to prevent falls will deliver life-changing benefits for older people and those undergoing rehabilitation after illness or injury.

Novel, cost-effective technologies for implants, prostheses and assistive device

Designed to maintain or improve function, novel technologies will adapt to users’ changing needs and capabilities, and so encourage more people to use (and keep using) aids that help them overcome impairment.

Novel devices that boost interventions’ success rates and longevity

Such devices will generate a wide variety of valuable benefits, such as reducing the need for follow-up or revision surgery.

Personalisation of physical intervention technologies

Focusing on digital health or pain management in the home, for example, technologies customisable to individual needs will not only strengthen palliative and other types of patient care but also protect and improve the health of the population at large.

Technologies for robotic surgery

Reduced recovery times, lower infection rates and lower costs are just three of the benefits that will result from harnessing highly accurate, minimally invasive autonomous and assisted robotics in surgical interventions.

Transforming health and care beyond the hospital

As the COVID-19 pandemic has underlined so starkly, the battle to tackle disease, support wellbeing and protect the vulnerable is also fought in people’s own homes.

This challenge focuses on the need for novel technologies that enable timely interventions beyond hospital settings and help people manage their own physical and mental health. Working cross-sector where appropriate, engineering and physical sciences research can drive this revolution in fields including:

  • real-time sensing
  • wearable devices and smart tools aiding remote prevention, diagnosis and treatment
  • data interpretation and presentation.

The aim is to equip patients, informal carers and healthcare professionals to communicate, collaborate and participate in a new framework that generates benefits at both individual and whole-population level.

There are several ways that research could do this. Key benefits of research pursued in response to this challenge will include better self-management by patients, faster recovery from illness and injury, and a reduced need to engage directly with ‘traditional’ health and care systems.

Decision-support dashboards and tools for healthcare professionals

These will support safe, effective remote monitoring and management of people with long-term conditions or who have been discharged early from hospital.

Devices and technologies fostering better mental health

Huge potential exists for innovations that help and support people with mental health conditions or who have limited opportunities for social interaction.

Improvements in health behaviour

Harnessing the power of social networking, for example, can be an effective tool for promoting and encouraging lifestyle adjustments that boost health and wellbeing.

Individually adaptive, minimally intrusive monitoring technologies

These will enhance health, care and wellbeing by facilitating collection of patient data. They will also make it easier for patients to interact with healthcare professionals and provide updates on their medical conditions.

Intelligent ‘companions’

These will be fully informed about an individual’s healthcare history. They will provide personalised feedback, tailored information and timely advice and empower people to manage their health more effectively and independently.

New methods of recognising abnormal data pattern

Working at a person-specific level, these will:

  • analyse physiological and behavioural data collected over time
  • identify causes for concern
  • provide early warnings for the patient themselves, their informal carers and healthcare professionals.

Technologies making human-computer interaction easier

These will allow people with limited IT skills to harness computers as information and communication tools that help them manage their own health and care.

Optimising disease prediction, diagnosis and intervention

Proactive disease prevention, timely treatment and prompt detection of recurrence are among the key foundations of any healthcare system maximising the value of the investment that underpins it.

Addressing both physical and mental health, this challenge focuses on the need for novel techniques that optimise patient-specific illness prediction, accurate diagnosis and effective intervention. With the onset of COVID-19 providing yet another incentive to remorselessly raise the bar in these vital areas, the aim is to strengthen the ability to take exactly the right steps to combat disease at precisely the right time.

Scientific, mathematical and other techniques, from biomarker identification, research into medical imaging and risk stratification to predictive modelling and real-time, evidence-based decision-making, will all play a role.

There are several ways that research could do this. New tools, techniques and technologies developed through research and innovation carried out in response to this challenge will be harnessed to benefit healthcare in fields as diverse as mental, maternal and paediatric health.

Complex models and decision-support systems that accommodate uncertainty

Rooted in an understanding of levels of confidence and sensitivity, these will enable increasingly sophisticated, increasingly agile decision-making regarding the treatment of individual patients.

Improved capabilities in real-time analytics

These will both improve the planning of treatment and enhance the patient experience, for example by making medical image acquisition smarter.

New devices for timely, accurate diagnosis of disease

By making it easier to plan effective interventions, these will increase the probability of successful outcomes.

New methods of analysing large datasets and cross-population data

These will cut costs and inform treatment options and improve outcomes.

Novel non-invasive sensing platforms

By capturing real-time data on individuals’ health and lifestyle, these will:

  • enable automated interventions – such as controlled drug release
  • improve control of medical conditions
  • allow patients to live more normally and independently.

Patient-specific and population-based predictive models

These will assist timely, accurate diagnosis and improved prediction of outcome by integrating expert medical knowledge with specific information about individuals – sourced, for instance, from medical records, physiological and behaviour monitoring, and self-reporting.

Techniques for predictive prevention of disease

Linked to new opportunities for tailored health screening, the identifying of at-risk individuals and early diagnosis, the harnessing of digital technologies and data analytics to predict susceptibility to illness can help people stay healthy and avoid medical complications.

Cross-cutting research capabilities

There are six areas of research that are essential for delivering the grand challenges.

Advanced materials

Research focused on the development, characterisation and processing of advanced materials with novel chemical, physical or mechanical properties, for health-related applications.

This may include but is not limited to:

  • development of biomaterials with innovative properties
  • design of bio-responsive materials
  • materials with enhanced biocompatibility
  • mechanical properties of tissues and biomaterials
  • applications of nano and 2D-materials.

Disruptive technologies for sensing and analysis

Research focused on innovative sensing systems or analytical technologies that could have a transformative impact on prediction, diagnosis and monitoring in healthcare.

This may include but is not limited to:

  • high-resolution sensors for real-time, point-of-care diagnosis
  • integration of sensors in a system
  • data capture and processing in real time
  • robust, long-term sensing
  • methods for rapid, detailed analysis of chemical or biological systems
  • ultra-low-power sensing systems.

Future manufacturing technologies

Research focused on technologies that will enable health-related manufacturing processes, products and systems to function with high precision, efficiency, reliability and repeatability.

This may include but is not limited to:

  • design of novel, affordable manufacturing processes
  • scale-up technologies
  • sustainable manufacturing
  • cost-effective patient specific manufacturing
  • integrated nano-micro-macro manufacturing
  • additive manufacturing
  • sensors, measurement and data analytics for process understanding and control.

Medical device design and innovation

Research focused on the design, development, evaluation and production of cost-effective, reliable and effective medical devices.

This may include but is not limited to:

  • robotics for surgical applications
  • wearable devices, prosthetics and orthotics
  • human-centred design for enhanced usability and validation
  • digital technologies for device design, prototyping and evaluation
  • sustainable design of medical devices
  • minimally invasive devices for monitoring, intervention and compliance.

Novel computational and mathematical sciences

Research focused on the development of innovative computational and mathematical methods for prediction, analysis and modelling in healthcare.

This may include but is not limited to:

  • new methodologies for making sense of complex healthcare data
  • integration, analysis and interpretation of data for decision-making
  • data visualisation tools
  • in silico modelling and simulation
  • mathematical and statistical modelling for healthcare applications
  • optimising process, system and resource management.

Novel imaging technologies

Research focused on the development of next-generation imaging technologies for diagnostic, monitoring and therapeutic applications, with improved accuracy, affordability and incorporating new modalities.

This may include but is not limited to:

  • higher performance, novel or lower cost image acquisition technologies
  • automated image interpretation to aid clinical decision making
  • multi-scale and multi-modal imaging systems
  • techniques for image reconstruction
  • high-throughput, real-time imaging at the point of care
  • qualification and technical validation of imaging biomarkers.

Cross-Council research

We also partner with other organisations to accelerate translation of funded research through to products and practices. Details can be found here on our strategic partnerships.

UKRI ageing – lifelong health and wellbeing programme (LLHW)

The LLHW programme ran from 2008 until March 2015. It committed £48.6 million supporting multidisciplinary ageing research targeting areas of need to meet the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population.

Through LLHW, the research councils have facilitated new multidisciplinary research collaborations, built capacity, and worked with a wide variety of cross-sector stakeholders to raise the profile of ageing research in the UK.

A strategy for collaborative ageing research in the UK (PDF 906 KB).

The research councils envisage continued cross-council collaboration and funding opportunities for multidisciplinary ageing research and life-course health and wellbeing.

EPSRC and MRC joint statement on support for healthcare technologies

Support for healthcare technologies is of strategic importance to both EPSRC and Medical Research Council (MRC). We are committed to funding research projects and researchers of the highest international quality.

UK Regenerative Medicine Platform

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, EPSRC and MRC have established a £25 million UK Regenerative Medicine Platform to address the technical and scientific challenges associated with translating promising scientific discoveries in this area towards clinical impact.

Strategic partnerships

EPSRC also partners with other organisations to accelerate translation of funded research through to products and practices.

Find out more about strategic partnerships.

Developing a new strategy

The first healthcare technologies strategy was developed in 2014 and published in 2015.

The health and care landscape has been through extraordinary challenges and change since then. Some of the most notable developments have involved the way technology is used to deliver healthcare. Healthcare is changing and technology will transform the world we live in.

We are refreshing our healthcare technologies strategy and revising the grand challenges. We would like to involve experts from our community to identify and explore the next set of unsolved health questions that have the potential to be transformative to health and care over the next 10 years.

This project is an opportunity for members of the community to help shape the strategy, which informs our long-term delivery activities for research and skills and leads to innovative developments across healthcare research areas.

What we want to achieve

We are keen to hear and include a breadth of perspectives and insights from our community and we would like to invite members to participate in a series of engagement activities between November 2021 and March 2022. You have the opportunity to be part of this progressive journey to identify the most important health challenges that engineering and physical sciences have the potential to contribute to and transform health and care over the next 10 years.

We are looking for participation from people that are:

  • passionate about healthcare technologies research in the UK
  • keen to collaborate with like-minded peers
  • open to sharing a diversity of perspectives and insights
  • open to developing novel engineering and physical sciences ideas
  • willing to shape the health challenges that potentially could transform this research landscape.

Key dates and events for your calendar

Future events will include:

  • virtual consultations in January to March 2022 – dates and times to be confirmed.

Understanding the funding landscape

EPSRC supports fundamental and applied research at the earliest stages in the development of any new technology. EPSRC will support research into new technologies until appropriate, early stage, proof of concept studies have been undertaken, to demonstrate how a set of scientific principles can be used to address a healthcare challenge.

Beyond this point it is no longer appropriate for EPSRC to support the development of technologies. Significant further investment will be required to develop technologies emerging from EPSRC-funded research into products and services that are ready to be evaluated in formal safety and efficacy studies and subsequently made available to patients.

Only those technologies with the strongest case for supporting them will be successful in attracting investment at each successive stage.

The development pathway for new technologies is frequently described in terms of technology readiness levels (TRLs), which give a common reference point when considering the level of development a given technology has achieved.

The journey of any given technology through the technology development pathway is rarely a simple linear progression, there are likely to be frequent forks in the path and feedback loops where activities generate new avenues of research, invention and iteration, or where components of systems at higher readiness levels in their own right, are considered to be at a lower level when integrated into a new system.

View an illustration on Technology Readiness Levels: From basic research to adoption and diffusion.

There are a multitude of other funders that work across the TRL scale to fund work in different scientific remits or at later stages of development.

Collectively, these organisations form a diverse, and somewhat complex, funding landscape, within which there is funding available to support a journey from fundamental, curiosity-led research all the way through to commercial products.

That journey is not easy. The journey, by its nature, is broken up into cycles of investment that support progress through the landscape and ‘up’ the TRL scale. At each successive funding stage the expectations for the technology become higher and the appetite for risk gets lower.

In order to be successful at each successive investment stage, your technology must have been sufficiently de-risked during the previous period of research and development to present a compelling case for further support.

View an illustration on The role of different funders in the Healthcare TRL landscape.

In order to move smoothly through the landscape, you need to understand the expectations of next-stage funders and consider how you will work towards meeting those expectations during your current or proposed project.

Each of these funding bodies will have different requirements, and it is highly advisable to engage with them as early as possible to gain a better understanding of what qualities successful proposals commonly feature.

You can’t know the exact path your technology will take at the outset of your project but you can suggest what some of the likely paths may be and how you will establish which of these to pursue as your project progresses. Some of the principal sources of translational funding for healthcare technologies are described below.

Sources of translational funding

EPSRC Impact Acceleration Accounts

This is an institutional funding scheme that provides small-scale flexible support for impact activities arising from previously funded EPSRC awards. It can be used to support exploratory translational activities including early proof of concept studies. This scheme is administered centrally within organisations, not all institutions will have access to this source of funding.

Contact your institution’s research office to find out more.

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – Invention for innovation

This is a project-based support for clinical, academic or business-led projects. It supports projects to develop from experimental proof of concept through to early-stage clinical trials. Research can be academic, clinical or business led but must involve an NHS partner. It does not support animal studies.

Find out more about the NIHR – Invention for Innovation funding programme on the NIHR website.

MRC Biomedical Catalyst – Confidence in Concept

Institutional funding scheme that provides small-scale flexible funding to support preliminary translational work, including demonstrating early proof of concept for new technologies. This scheme is administered centrally within organisations, not all institutions will have access to this source of funding.

Medical research council (MRC) – Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme

This is project-based support for academic-led translational projects where early stage proof of concept has already been demonstrated. Can be used to support preclinical research and development through to early stage clinical trials.

Find out more about MRC’s Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme.

Innovate UK Biomedical Catalyst – feasibility

Small-scale project based support for business-led translational projects to undertake exploratory translational work, including  demonstrating early proof of concept for new technologies.

Innovate UK Biomedical Catalyst – early/primer stage

Project-based support for business-led translational projects. Can be used to support initial proof of concept, preclinical research and development through to clinically-ready prototype. Cannot be used to support clinical trials.

Innovate UK Biomedical Catalyst – late stage

Project-based support for business-led translational projects where early stage proof of concept has already been demonstrated. Can be used to support preclinical research and development through to early clinical trials.

Small Business Research Initiative – SBRI Healthcare

This is project-based support for business-led translational projects. Projects run over two stages, with an initial feasibility stage, which can be used for early stage exploratory work, followed by a more substantial follow up phase.

Find out more about how SBRI Healthcare funds research on its website.

Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK provides support for projects addressing cancer challenges via a broad variety of mechanisms.

Find out more about how Cancer Research UK funds researchers on its website.

British Heart Foundation

The British Heart Foundation provides support for projects addressing cardiovascular health challenges via a broad variety of mechanisms.

Find out more about what the British Heart Foundation funds on its website.

Questions to consider

  • What stage of development is your technology at?
  • Where do you hope to progress your technology to during your project? What’s a successful outcome?
  • If your project is successful, who is the most appropriate funder to support the next stage of development? If there’s more than one, how will you decide which to target and when?
  • What are the qualities of high-quality applications to relevant next-stage funders?
  • Will your project deliver all the evidence and prior planning required to produce a high-quality application for next-stage funding?

For further information

The Office for Life Sciences guide to navigating the innovation pathway offers an excellent overview of the downstream landscape with a particular focus on developing products for the NHS.

The NIHR research design service supports researchers to develop and design high quality research proposals for submission to NIHR funding programmes and other open, national, peer reviewed funding competitions for applied health or social care research.

Research areas

Research areas

You can find out more about:

Opportunities, support and resources available

Funding opportunities

You can apply for funding to support an EPSRC research proposal in the area of healthcare technologies at any time under any open EPSRC scheme, including standard mode, programme grants and fellowships.

Standard (sometimes known as ‘responsive’) funding opportunities are open to a wide range of research and approaches within EPSRC’s remit.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Find out more about successful research projects in healthcare technologies.

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 healthcare technologies.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Who to contact

Ask a question about Healthcare Technologies theme

Philippa Hemmings, Head of Healthcare Technologies

Email: philippa.hemmings@epsrc.ukri.org

Laura Cadman, Senior Portfolio Manager

  • neurotechnology
  • programme grants

Email: laura.cadman@epsrc.ukri.org

Katherine Freeman, Senior Portfolio Manager

  • digital health
  • healthy ageing

Email: katherine.freeman@epsrc.ukri.org

Matthew Weaver, Senior Portfolio Manager

  • regenerative medicine
  • cancer

Email: matthew.weaver@epsrc.ukri.org

Kate Reading, Portfolio Manager

  • Medical imaging

Email: kate.reading@epsrc.ukri.org

Michael Onoja, Portfolio Manager

  • Clinical Technologies (excluding imaging)

Email: michael.onoja@epsrc.ukri.org

Alex Sklan, Portfolio Manager

  • Assistive technology, Rehabilitation and Musculoskeletal Biomechanics

Email: alexandra.sklan@epsrc.ukri.org

Ask a question about delivery and support of the theme

Alison Dunn, Delivery Support Manager

Email: alison.dunn@epsrc.ukri.org

Cheryl Norcross, Delivery Support Administrator

Email: cheryl.norcross@epsrc.ukri.org

Lydia Dunmore, Delivery Support Administrator

Email: lydia.dunmore@epsrc.ukri.org

Make a general enquiry

Email: healthcare@epsrc.ukri.org

Governance, management and panels

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.