By Katherine Freeman, Senior Portfolio Manager, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Published: 15 January 2020

The UK has long been a world-leader for innovation in life sciences. With advances in our understanding of biological systems, higher-speed computing and breakthroughs in genomics, we have opened up untold possibilities. If we want to continue to be at the forefront of life sciences we must remember the vital role engineering and physical sciences play in life sciences discoveries. Since 2000 all except one of the Nobel Prizes for Chemistry and half of Nobel Prizes for Physics have been awarded for discoveries with life sciences applications. During the last 35 years, 11 of the Nobel prize-winners for medicine have had a background in chemistry, physics or engineering.

Over £2 billion, or around 25% of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) research investment over the past 20 years, is relevant to life sciences. We have identified health as a priority and our aim is to accelerate the translation of our research into healthcare applications and ensure that the research we fund has a positive impact on patients. In order to achieve this, we need to work with other stakeholders including medical research charities as they have access to real world challenges in health. With this in mind, the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and the EPSRC decided to hold a joint workshop to identify challenges that we could work together on.

The joint workshop was held on 7 November 2019, bringing together over 40 medical charity research directors and engineering and physical sciences researchers.

Attendees at the event discussed topics which AMRC and EPSRC could collaborate on and at the end of the day they voted on the challenges of greatest importance to them (listed below in order of votes received):

  1. Self-monitoring to create feedback loop for better treatment and prediction
  2. Patient empowerment and quality of life
  3. Co-morbidities - physical and mental health
  4. Wearables - inclusive of device design/ analytics, improving the underpinning technology affordability 'in the home'
  5. Data sharing, anonymisation and curation          
  6. Prediction and early intervention
  7. Self-management, individual care, self-care       
  8. Stratification of populations      
  9. Developing tools to improve research
  10. Improve drug delivery
  11. Patient and public trust in sharing data  
  12. Monitoring data in the home to share with health partners           
  13. Connecting environmental data with health data 
  14. Retaining and creating talent in data and science and AI 
  15. Staying independent and active 
  16. Facilitating dialogue with healthcare professionals         
  17. Simulating data like real clinical data to facilitate sharing             

Following the workshop, we are working with the AMRC to establish how we can tackle some of these challenges. We’re also planning to provide further opportunities for networking and joint-funded activities in the year ahead.

Please get in touch with the Healthcare Technologies theme at EPSRC if you have any ideas about how EPSRC could work with medical research charities.

Further information about EPSRC

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK. EPSRC is part of UK Research and Innovation, a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. By investing in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation.

The EPSRC portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future UK prosperity by contributing to a healthy, connected, resilient, productive nation.

You can find out about EPSRC’s current partnerships with charities here.