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:
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.
Analysis of the signals generated by the body with advanced signal processing techniques is fundamental in understanding the basis of many diseases. Our biomedical signal processing techniques are now being applied to the analysis of the electroencephalogram in Alzheimer’s disease, electroencephalogram in sleep studies in collaboration with Surrey Sleep Research Centre, the electrocardiogram in cardiac autonomic neuropathy in diabetes, intracranial pressure to characterise hydrocephalus and brain–computer interfacing.
Advances in our understanding of the interaction between electric fields, fluids and cells means that we are better able than ever to develop new ways of observing and understanding the world. Work in this field at Surrey includes the development of the first devices to simultaneously analyse the electrical properties of thousands of cells on a chip, new technology to separate cells on the basis of their biophysical properties, and new ways to concentrate viruses and bacteria onto sensor surfaces to enable detection. The work has resulted in five patents and the foundation of a spin-off company, DEPtech, to generate new products based on this technology.
In order to better understand biology from a new viewpoint, we have used electric fields and dielectrophoresis to determine the electric properties of cells. These properties have been used to detect the presence of oral cancer in clinical samples (currently undergoing clinical trial), determine how stem cells will differentiate in order to select the right ones for therapeutic use, look at electrophysiological characteristics in circadian rhythms, as well as to study drug effects on various cells, and understand drug resistance in cancer. We have applied the same technique to cell patterning, creating clusters of cells in order to better understand how cells work, grow and interact in 3D, particularly in understanding how this affect the way their electrophysiological properties change from 2D to 3D, and how drugs work.
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.
Shock wave therapy (SWT) is a common term for therapeutic techniques that use high-amplitude transient pressure waves to treat a wide range of clinical conditions. While SWT was originally developed as a technique for breaking kidney stones, it is now being increasingly used for the management of a variety of musculo-skeletal conditions such as the inflammation of tendons and ligaments in the foot. At this point in time the understanding of the exact mechanisms through which pressure waves may work to promote healing in connective tissue is at the level of speculation. We have developed finite element models of a ballistic shock wave source and of the foot to examine the mechanical effects of SWT on the anatomical structures of the foot. The next step is to establish a link between the mechanical stimulus and the related therapeutically beneficial biological response.
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. We also collaborate with clinicians on the design and performance evaluation of knee implants, and the tissue response to long-term implantation.
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.
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.
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.