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£10m plan to take Yorkshire’s medical technologies expertise to the world

Innovative new medical technologies being developed at Leeds Beckett University – including a project using sensors to improve the lives of patients with Parkinson’s disease – will be supported by a new partnership aiming to support the commercialisation of university research.

A doctor looking at an x-ray

The Grow MedTech partnership - backed by almost £10m of funding from the Connecting Capability Fund - will build on the distinctive cluster of medical technologies expertise in the Leeds and Sheffield city regions.

Six northern universities – including Leeds Beckett - are among more than 20 partners in the three year project, led by the University of Leeds. Other supporters include the local enterprise partnerships serving both city regions, National Institute of Health Research organisations, councils and chambers of commerce.

By supporting and financially backing researchers and developers to take new products through the early stages of commercial development, the partnership expects to bring around 20 potentially life-enhancing devices into everyday use during the next three years.

One such medical technology is being developed by Dr Sareen Galbraith, Senior Lecturer in the School of Clinical and Applied Sciences at Leeds Beckett University, with research and development company, Axxonet System Technologies Pvt Ltd, and the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust.

The team are collaborating to develop the use of Axxonet’s ‘Clasp’ - a glove fitted with accelerometer and flexor sensors - for monitoring upper limb movement in Parkinson’s disease patients.

The Axxonet Clasp glove

Dr Galbraith explained: “One in 550 people in the UK has Parkinson’s disease, costing £2 billion annually. Parkinson’s is a chronic and progressive movement disorder, characterised by tremors, stiffness, slowness of movement and balance problems. It is caused by loss of the neurons in the substantia nigra neurons which produce dopamine – a neurotransmitter involved in motor control, for example, upper limb movement.

“One aspect of Parkinson’s is slowness of limb movement. Treatment of Parkinson’s aims to reduce this and increase the patient’s ability to carry out everyday activities. Our research with Axxonet aims to develop sensitive and reproducible sensor measurements of movement in Parkinson's disease patients that will complement the specialist neurological assessment.”

Working with colleagues in the School of Computing, Creative Technologies and Engineering, the Leeds Beckett team is also working to connect the Clasp glove sensors to a mobile phone app.

Grow MedTech will take the business risk out of early stage projects and provide proof of commercial concept funding. It will also support clinical evaluation to secure regulatory approval, essential for them to be commercialised.

Dr Josephine Dixon-Hardy, Director of Medical Technologies Innovation at the University of Leeds is leading the delivery of the programme the partnership. She said: “We are bringing the best minds in engineering, biological development, design and manufacture together with industry to drive products into everyday use to improve the quality of life for people across the world.

“Our region already has an acknowledged reputation as a leader in this field – we plan to consolidate and extend that and provide the underpinning support needed to take new inventions through the important regulatory and testing processes needed to get them to market.”

Recognising that the most significant trend in future health care product innovation is the combination of different technologies – such as linking the Clasp glove sensors to a mobile app - the partnership is paying special attention to supporting this area of growth.

Grow MedTech is closely aligned with the recently published UK Government’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, which highlights the role of medical technologies as a driving force for the UK economy.

David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England, said: “In the Industrial Strategy, the Government asked us to improve our ability to turn exciting ideas into commercial products and services. Universities have stepped forward in this project to show that they can do world class commercialisation, alongside world class science.” 

The project is part-funded by Research England, which has contributed just under £5m through the Connecting Capability Fund. The remainder of the funding is provided by the partner organisations.

Grow MedTech is led by the University of Leeds, in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University, Leeds Beckett University, the University of Bradford, University of Huddersfield and University of York, all of which have significant strengths in medical technologies research and development.

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