Healthcare Technologies Grand Challenges

Developing New 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 Grand 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. Research could include, but will not be limited to, projects delivering:

  • advanced technologies ready for clinical trials: multiscale computer modelling, adaptive design and data analytics, for example, 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: these will boost the effectiveness with which novel drugs and other pharmaceutical substances target specific places in the body, achieve controlled release of their active ingredients and/or deliver more than one active ingredient at a time 
  • flexible, adaptable processes for manufacturing high-quality therapies: such processes will be capable of cost-effective scale-up to enable mass production of medicines (to tackle epidemics, for instance) and scale-down to produce personalised medicines (such as regenerative therapies using patients’ own cells)
  • innovative technologies for regenerative medicine: these will enable development of new materials to promote tissue growth, and creation of human organs in the lab (avoiding the need to rely on donors when damaged organs need replacement or repair), as well as 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: cutting drug development costs and minimising the need for animal testing, these will enable rapid prediction and measurement of drugs’ therapeutic impact, their interactions with target molecules in the body and side-effects.

Research and innovation can make a key contribution to all the pivotal goals this Grand Challenge addresses, from better prevention and earlier diagnosis to improved treatment, better outcomes and faster recovery. EPSRC has already funded a range of successful research projects in this area.

For more examples, please visit our Healthcare Technologies Portfolio.

EPSRC has already funded a range of successful research projects in this area. The following case studies present two striking examples:

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 Grand 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, or tackle the impact of global pandemics and crises such as COVID-19 and diseases such as cancer that exacerbate and accelerate function loss. Similarly, they could embrace physical and digital devices, or utilise ‘whole body’ or more targeted approaches. Research could include, but will not be limited to, projects delivering:

  • advances in physics modelling and image-guided treatment planning: 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, these will help to re-establish function, reduce pain and assist recovery
  • lightweight exoskeletons and balance-training devices: supporting movement and helping to prevent falls, these 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 devices:  designed to maintain or improve function, these 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.

By catalysing advances like these, this Grand Challenge aims to reinforce the role of physical interventions in maintaining and enhancing function, and their contribution to optimising healthcare. EPSRC has already funded a range of successful research projects in this area.

For more examples, please visit our Healthcare Technologies Portfolio.

EPSRC has already funded a range of successful research projects in this area. The following case studies present two striking examples:

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 Grand 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 ranging from real-time sensing, wearable devices and smart tools aiding remote prevention, diagnosis and treatment, to 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. Research could include, but will not be limited to, projects delivering:

  • 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 as well as making it easier for patients to interact with healthcare professionals and provide updates on their medical conditions
  • intelligent 'companions': fully informed about an individual's healthcare history, these will provide personalised feedback, tailored information and timely advice empowering people to manage their health more effectively and independently
  • new methods of recognising abnormal data patterns: working at a person-specific level, these will analyse physiological and behavioural data collected over time, identify causes for concern and 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.

Key benefits of research pursued in response to this Grand 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. EPSRC has already funded a range of successful research projects in this area.

For more examples, please visit our Healthcare Technologies Portfolio.

EPSRC has already funded a range of successful research projects in this area. The following case studies present two striking examples:

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 Grand 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. Research could include, but will not be limited to, projects delivering:

  • 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, as well as informing treatment options and improving 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 and allow patients to live more normally and independently
  • patient-specific and population-based predictive models: integrating expert medical knowledge with specific information about individuals (sourced, for instance, from medical records, physiological and behaviour monitoring, and self-reporting), these will assist timely, accurate diagnosis and improved prediction of outcome
  • 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.

New tools, techniques and technologies developed through research and innovation carried out in response to this Grand Challenge will be harnessed to benefit healthcare in fields as diverse as mental, maternal and paediatric health. EPSRC has already funded a range of successful research projects in this area.

For more examples, please visit our Healthcare Technologies Portfolio.

EPSRC has already funded a range of successful research projects in this area. The following case studies present two striking examples: