|Professor Barry Hunt||Dean of Faculty of Health & Human Sciences, University of Hertfordshire>|
|Oliver Wells||Chair, ABHI Research & Innovation Policy Group|
|Professor Bill Lees||Director, Centre for Medical Imaging, UCL|
|Dr. Patrick Finlay||Managing Director, Medimation Ltd.|
|Professor Alan Barrell||Chair, Health Enterprise East|
|Vote of Thanks|
|John Morton||Chief Executive of the Engineering and Technology Board|
“Engineering Our Health” was the title of the tenth prestige seminar organised by the Herts & Beds sub group of the East of England Engineering, Science and Technology Association (EEESTA), held at the University of Hertfordshire, in the Weston Auditorium, on Wednesday 12 November 2008.
A panel of three speakers explored some exciting advances in Biomedical Engineering – the application of scientific principles and engineering techniques to the medical field. All speakers enlivened their talks with wit and humour.
The welcome was given by Prof Barry Hunt, Dean, Faculty of Health and Human Sciences, University of Hertfordshire. He took the opportunity to give a brief history of the University and describe the work of Faculty of Health & Human Sciences, in particular the unique Multi-professional Simulation Learning and Research Laboratory.
The Seminar was Chaired by Oliver Wells, Chair ABHI Research & Innovation Policy Group, and other health organisations.
Before introducing the speakers, he gave a short illustrated talk to indicate the extremely wide breadth of technologies and products used in healthcare, in order to set the scene for the seminar. He pointed out that there are over 4,000 businesses in health technologies in the UK: the majority of these are SMEs. They supply a wide diversity of products from hospital piping systems to the most sophisticated imaging technologies. Many products are single use: others last for many years. They can be found on wards in hospitals, in operating theatres and in laboratories. They are used by community nurses in people’s homes. Many involve exploitation of highly complex science, brought together by an ingenious combination of other technologies: the health technology industry exists to turn this into safe and reliable everyday reality.
The first talk, “Medical Imaging, an engineering perspective” was given by Prof Bill Lees, Director, Centre for Medical Imaging, UCL. He noted that since Roentgen’s discovery of X-Rays in 1895 virtually every conceivable energy source has been used to probe and image the inside of the human body. He gave a brief review of the historical development of two of the most commonly used imaging techniques, X-Ray computed tomography and diagnostic ultrasound and showed that many of the principles of physics on which these are based are very old. It has been engineering developments which have driven progress in medical imaging.
The information content of CT and ultrasound scans has doubled every 3 years since their invention. Prof Lees’ first CT scanner took 27 seconds to acquire data for a single slice. The latest scanners are 25,000 times faster. He showed an impressive video clip of a scanner with the covers removed, showing the scanner revolving at 180 rpm. This required advanced slip ring technology and 10Gbyte/sec data flow.
The vast amounts of image data produced in even a routine scan make it necessary to use advanced processing techniques to reduce the data to a manageable form, and to display it in a meaningful way. People have been saying for over 20 years that CT and Ultrasound imaging have hit the limits imposed by physics and cannot improve further, however engineering developments continue more rapidly than ever.
New frontiers of medical imaging include a move from structural imaging (anatomy) to imaging physiological processes. With molecular imaging able to study cellular processes there has been a paradigm shift in thinking about the nature of medical images. Many exciting new developments are happening in the basic science labs. It will take imaginative engineering to bring them to clinical reality.
Prof Lees showed some amazingly clear images inside the human body and talked about CT as a precision guidance tool for various procedures. This provided a link with the second talk.
Dr Patrick A Finlay, Managing Director Medimaton Limited talked about “Robotics in Surgery”, and gave a snapshot of the state of the art of medical robots today. He argued that current surgical robots are used as Telemanipulators, or in Image guided surgery, and showed examples of both. Telemanipulators are essentially Master Slave systems, and are not autonomous robots. He demonstrated examples of surgical procedures where robots are being used to provide enhanced dexterity and accuracy, whilst minimising collateral damage. Dr Finlay gave Neurosurgery as an example of Image Guided Robots. He emphasised that registration is the key to accuracy, and showed the use of fiducial markers and skin markers used as artificial targets for confirming accuracy, in testing prior to surgery. Image guided robots enable previously unachievable sub-millimetre accuracy.
He gave some examples of the next generation of surgical robots, currently at the research level. These he described as Strategic Surgical robots, and envisaged that they would be small, including intra-body, intelligent and sensuate, and semi- autonomous, and ubiquitous in surgical procedures.
Prof Alan Barrell, Chair Health Entreprise East, in his talk, “From Vision to Reality” talked about the implementation of new ideas. Quoting Einstein, “Imagination is more important than Knowledge. Knowledge is limited – Imagination encircles the World” and “Anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new”, Prof Barrell traced some of the implications of those words from the great man, and examined some of the significant challenges involved in Engineering Our Health.
After quoting a Japanese proverb “Vision without Action is a Daydream. Action without vision is a Nightmare”, he went on to ask, “Do companies become more creative and innovative as they grow bigger? Do large companies and organisations encourage innovation and risk? Do users rely on companies to innovative and implement?” He argued that in the healthcare field it is often the users and small companies that initiate new ideas.
He pointed out that Chinese history demonstrates that inventiveness and great inventions, indeed outstanding engineering, do not always or often lead to rapid delivery of benefits to humankind. The hurdles to be navigated as engineers seek to move from ideas into action and develop products suitable for people, are numerous, including issues of design, planning, resources, people skills, investments and finance. Markets and marketing, acceptance, approval and adoption, timescales for delivery, are all matters which loom large on the path from the bench and the laboratory, to the bedside or the home health environment.
Prof Barrell briefly described the rôle of Health Enterprise East (HEE), www.HEE.org.uk, one of a national network of Innovation Hubs funded by the Department of Health, the DTI and EEDA – Helping Visions become Realities.
Following a question and answer session, the Vote of Thanks was given by Dr John Morton, CEO of the Engineering and Technology Board.
Photographs on this page by Will Dennehy Photography. Text by Ian Williamson.