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Imperial College London : 30 June, 2009  (Special Report)
FOCUS ZONE REPORT – Improving the lives of people living with osteoarthritis is to be the focus of a new £11 million research centre at Imperial College London.
The Centre is one four new Centres of Excellence in Medical Engineering, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) who aim to transform the future of healthcare in the UK.

In Imperial’s new Centre of Excellence in osteoarthritis, researchers will develop new devices to detect and monitor the disease, create new procedures and implants to make joint replacement surgery less invasive, and develop new techniques to improve the how people are rehabilitated following surgery.

Researchers aim to identify the early signs of osteoarthritis so that treatments can be administered early, to minimise the disease’s impact. Some of the work will, for example, identify molecules that are markers in the blood stream that indicate joint damage. The researchers aim to develop new hand-held devices to help doctors determine whether the therapies that they administer are having any effect on patients by recognising whether there were increases or decreases of disease markers in the blood.

The scientists will also develop smaller implants and new surgical techniques that use robots to make joint replacement surgery less invasive, more accurate and cost effective and that improve outcomes for patients. The researchers are already developing a new Implant for joint replacement in patients with osteoarthritic knees. They will also develop implants that use a patient’s own cells to grow new cartilage.

The scientists are developing other initiatives including developing a three step surgical technique designed to minimise any error during joint procedures using a robot called the Acrobot Wayfinder. The robot scans a patient’s damaged knee to create 3-D models. A surgeon can then use this to carry out ‘dry-run’ virtual operations. The surgeon can also use the Acrobot Wayfinder as a guide to help them insert new lighter implants.

The researchers are also looking at new ways of rehabilitating patients and slowing the development of osteoarthritis to delay joint deterioration. Scientists are, for example, developing new wireless sensors to maximise the benefits of rehabilitation exercises. Patients will wear the sensors while exercising, so that their doctor can monitor knee motions and correct any wrong movements.

Professor Ross Ethier, Principal Investigator and Head of the Department of Bioengineering, said: “The burden of Osteoarthritis is projected to increase in the coming years and it has never been more important to develop new and innovative ways to treat this disease. At Imperial, we will establish a hub for research in this field that will draw the best and brightest researchers from around the UK and the world to fight osteoarthritis. Imperial welcomes the opportunity to work with the EPSRC, the Wellcome Trust, and the other Centres of Excellence to push forward the frontiers of medical engineering.”

The work in the new Centre will be carried out by teams of clinicians, biomedical scientists and engineers from the Departments of Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering, Materials, the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, the Division of Surgery, Oncology, Reproductive Biology and Anaesthetics (SORA) and the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology.

The researchers will be working closely with colleagues at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Together the Trust and the College have formed the Academic Health Sciences Centre, a partnership that will improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.

Sir Roy Anderson, Rector of Imperial College London, adds: “Osteoarthritis costs the country an estimated £5.5 billion every year directly and indirectly. The establishment of the Centre at Imperial, thanks to the EPSRC and Wellcome Trust grant, will lead to advances in our understanding of this disease that will improve the lives of sufferers, reduce the financial burden on the health system and open up new market opportunities that could benefit UK plc.”

Investigators participating in the Centre include Professors Ross Ethier, Department of Bioengineering, Andrew Amis, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Tony Cass, Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Justin Cobb, SORA, Jeremy Saklatvala, Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, Molly Stevens, Department of Materials, Chris Toumazou, Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Guang-Zhong Yang , Department of Computing, and Drs Anthony Bull, Department of Bioengineering and Alison McGregor, SORA Research will commence at Centre on the 1 October 2009.

The three other Centres of Excellence will be based at King’s College London, University of Leeds and Oxford University.

Osteoarthritis is a painful condition that degrades the cartilage in joints. The condition is the most common cause of chronic pain, affecting 8.5 million people in the UK.
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