Heriot-Watt receives GBP1.3million to make medical devices smaller, smarter and cheaper



Engineers and scientists from across Heriot-Watt University have been awarded £1.3 million to tackle one of the biggest problems facing the medical profession: making advanced medical devices smaller, smarter and cheaper than current versions.   

Optical, mechanical, electronic and manufacturing engineering and science experts from across the university will form the new Medical Device Manufacturing Group, led by Professor Duncan Hand, who also leads the five-university EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes.

The Medical Device Manufacturing Group will address the challenges in the manufacturing of medical devices, driven by the clinical need for efficient and cost-effective solutions, to develop miniature systems for micro-endoscopy and micro-surgery. 

Medical devices play a key role in healthcare, including diagnosis, therapy, monitoring, rehabilitation and care. Improved manufacturing processes will enable a much wider use of such devices, with a clear benefit to patients and the NHS through improved reliability and robustness. 

The group will now focus on finding new ways to customise medical devices for patients. Currently, customisation is primarily focused on medicines, but the Heriot-Watt team will explore the potential to customise devices for patients, such as drug delivery devices that respond to external stimuli, or parts tailored to ‘fit' a particular patient by using flexible manufacturing processes such as laser machining or 3D printing.  

Professor Duncan Hand, director of the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes at Heriot-Watt, said, “We're asking clinicians and industry representatives what their priorities and clinical needs are; then we'll engineer realistic, cost-effective solutions for them. 

“Medical devices pose their own particular manufacturing challenges, given the required operating environment and the need for cost effectiveness. 

We'll be investigating how to miniaturise multi-technology systems with the functionality that clinicians, industry partners and, ultimately, patients require; devising packaging and integration systems that keep devices safe, stable and smart.

Professor Duncan Hand

“The additional challenge is ensuring they can all be manufactured at a low cost, to make sure the healthcare sector can afford them.” 

Through previous research and appeals from clinicians, the Heriot-Watt team has already identified some priority areas. They plan to develop a suite of medical devices that can be incorporated into, or onto, the end of optical fibres, so that lasers can target, treat or remove lesions or tumours better, and in a less invasive way for the patient. Also in the pipeline are miniature robotic systems that could detect or remove cancerous tissue. 

Research into the manufacturing of medical devices at Heriot-Watt has increased significantly in recent years. The latest funding from EPSRC compounds its previous support for the university in this area, alongside significant investment from the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Medical Research Council