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Medicine, Health & Biological Sciences

… protection, detection and treatment

No research has the potential to feed through into bigger social and economic benefits than work in the sphere of healthcare. Increased life expectancy and quality of life; a more active population; a healthier workforce; less pressure on healthcare services and budgets, in the context of an ageing demographic – these are some of the prizes that ultimately depend on research breakthroughs in medicine, health and the biological sciences underpinning them.

Our contribution in this arena complements the work of our colleagues at MRC and BBSRC, the UK’s primary Research Council funders in this field. Our core aim is to apply the latest developments in our science and technology to bear on health-related challenges, through funding support, provision of access to outstanding research facilities, extensive collaboration with industry and academia, and in-house research catalysing the creation of dynamic, innovative spinout companies capable of capturing markets worldwide.

Harnessing leading-edge laser science, computational science, particle accelerator and neutron-scattering capabilities, micro and nanotechnology, materials science, space science technology and other disciplines, the breakthroughs we make possible benefit the three key dimensions of healthcare:

Better protection

Prevention isn’t just better than cure, it’s often cheaper too. We continually extend the limits of medical and biological knowledge and explore new ways of keeping illnesses and diseases at bay. For example:

  • Heart Disease & Strokes: Adapting robot technology first designed to collect soil samples on other worlds, we’ve developed a simple in-home blood test that monitors the risk of blood clots and is being taken towards commercialisation by spinout company Microvisk.
  • Bird Flu: Innovative low-energy microscope technology has produced new insights into how viruses such as the poxviruses behave inside living cells, potentially leading to better vaccines for inoculating birds against bird flu and better control of a disease with potential to mutate into a serious threat to humans.

Better detection

Diagnosing conditions earlier, more accurately and less invasively not only benefits patients but also relieves strain from healthcare resources. Our capabilities have delivered important diagnostic advances covering a range of serious conditions. For example:

  • Breast Cancer: Our Central Laser Facility (CLF) has developed a laser-based technique that can analyse abnormalities in order to check for malignancy, eliminating the need for biopsies that extract tissue samples by needle.
  • Osteoporosis: Another use of the innovative technique developed by our Central Laser Facility (CLF) could enable brittle bone disease to be detected before the patient sustains a painful fracture, which often provides the first indication of the condition’s presence.

Better treatment

Helping treatments to become more clinically effective and, where appropriate, more cost-effective too is absolutely vital to the future health of the nation. For example:

  • E-coli: Our ISIS neutron-scattering source has generated unprecedented insights into the behaviour of Ecoli bacteria, potentially a key step in the development of new ways to treat food poisoning and illnesses such as meningitis.
  • Gene Therapy: Harnessing laser technology at the Research Complex at Harwell, a new technique using microscopic carbon tubes to safely penetrate human cells and deliver modified DNA molecules could open up exciting possibilities in gene therapy, as well as in cancer treatment by aiding drug delivery.
  • Improving quality of life via implants: Current implants show poor integration with the patient’s bone. A search is on-going to find better bonding agents between the bone and the metal, and with neutrons at ISIS their efficacy on stresses can been characterised. A further step is the right direction is the possibility of using bioactive glasses as replacements for metallic implants through bone regeneration
  • Cost Control: Developed by spinout company Colbalt Light Systems, RapID is a pioneering laser-based instrument that can pinpoint the chemical make-up of materials still wrapped in packaging, enabling pharmaceutical firms to cut the time and cost involved in verifying raw materials used in drug manufacture.
  • Drug delivery: efficient and targeted drug release to only diseased tissue, using biocompatible drug vehicles, would provide an excellent alternative to radiotherapy. Neutron scattering at ISIS has allowed researchers to test new vehicle formations which will not be attacked by components of the immune’s system, but that would deliver their cargo as expected.
  • DNA Damage Repair: Using safe near infrared lasers to mimic ionising radiation to understand how radiotherapy may be improved to treat cancer as well as how it kills normal cells.

A key element in our drive to achieve improved healthcare is our Healthcare Futures Programme, with its focus on encouraging collaboration between researchers and healthcare providers aimed at advancing the fight against cancer, diabetes, vascular disease and many other conditions. In everything we do, we’re committed to seeing our facilities and capabilities mobilised to meet real clinical needs and make a tangible difference to the UK’s health and well-being.

Last updated: 26 February 2016


Science and Technology Facilities Council
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