The Centre's goal is the application of engineering and technology to problems in medicine and biology, from the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of disease to a better understanding of the way the body works. Research in the Centre can be divided into a number of main areas:
Human Movement and Virtual Reality
Understanding the way in which the human body moves is fundamental in understanding the basis of many diseases and in assessing patients with abnormal walking (gait), such as stroke patients and amputees. Our human movement tools and expertise are now being applied to virtual reality and biofeedback techniques for gait re-education, for example, in post-stroke cases, and in areas of assessment of surgical skills, for example, by monitoring movement of the hands and fingers during clinical procedures.
Biosensors and Bioelectronics
Micro-engineering techniques allow the miniaturisation of components normally found in a large laboratory to a size where a single device can perform a range of operations for clinical assessment. We have built and tested devices for the measurement of drug effects on single cells, the study of drug resistance in cancer cells, the detection of oral cancer cells from a tissue sample, the detection of bacteria in air, and the study of how stem cells differentiate.
The nervous system is the control network of the human body. We have developed implantable neuroprobes for communicating with the nervous system. These probes, much thinner than a human hair, contain electrodes that can record signals from individual nerve cells. Our work covers many aspects of neural interfacing, including signal processing, probe construction and the assessment of the body’s reaction to the probe materials.
Functional Electrical Stimulation
When muscles and nerve pathways become damaged or have their function reduced as a result of disease, trauma or congenital condition, it is possible to restore some of the lost function by applying electrical stimulation to the remaining healthy tissue. Our work in functional electrical stimulation has allowed patients with such conditions as cerebral palsy, or ‘drop foot’ as a result of stroke, to improve their mobility.
Computer Models of the Eye
Traumatic injury to the eye and the optic nerve, such as due to the impact of rapidly inflating airbags in automobiles, or a blunt object, can be simulated using computer models. These can be used both to minimise the risk of injury and to understand the exact mechanism through which various types of injury occur.
Conventional prosthetic limb fitting is normally achieved by using a socket on the residual stump of the amputated limb. However, some patients experience problems with tissue damage and difficulties in achieving a stable fit. We are part of an international collaboration to develop a new method of attachment. Titanium devices are implanted into the bone to which an artificial leg is attached, allowing the body weight to be supported through the skeleton.
Blood Flow and Vascular Grafts
When blood vessels fail, it is possible to replace them with artificial blood vessels, called vascular grafts. There is still much uncertainty about how they respond in the body and how blood flow responds to the artificial material. Our work encompasses a range of approaches, such as experiments, computer simulations and analysis, and includes established links with commercial vascular graft suppliers.
Cerebrospinal Fluid Dynamics
The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a clear fluid that bathes the brain and the spinal cord, protecting it from impact and vibration. CSF interacts with the cardiovascular system and is constantly moving in response to the arterial pulse. We are examining the movement of the CSF through experimental and theoretical models to see whether abnormal movement of the CSF relates to certain pathological conditions of the nervous system.