Health Technologies

The West Midlands: Med tech innovator

Professor Tom Clutton-Brock is Clinical Director of the NIHR Trauma Management Medtech Co-operative (MIC) and Director of the Medical Devices Testing and Evaluation Centre (MD-TEC).

Based at University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB), the enterprises are helping to cement the West Midlands’ reputation as a major med tech innovator.

 “The MICs are designed to work with patients, academics, clinicians and industry to bring new technology-based solutions into healthcare, with a focus around a particular specialty, in our case, trauma,” Prof. Clutton-Brock says.

“Five or six years ago, we won a large European grant to build MD-TEC.”

The trauma pathway presents a wide remit for the MIC, from the initial ‘Golden Hour’ through to rehabilitation weeks, months or years down the line.

The MIC focuses on four inter-related parts of the patient pathway following traumatic injury:

  1. Acute response to injury and stabilisation
  2. Repair, regeneration and reconstruction
  3. Re-enablement and rehabilitation
  4. Mental health

The third phase has seen huge advances in recent years, with innovations in VR and robotics drastically improving patient outcomes.

Prof. Clutton-Brock recently worked on a project that used VR to help patients prepare for life with a prosthetic limb.

He explains:

“The VR goggles project an image of a prosthetic upper-limb. And when you move the nerves in your arm, you can see your ‘hand’ move.

“The idea is to train people how to use a hand before they actually have one. It’s amazing to see.”

While med tech has massively advanced over the past decade, some unmet areas of clinical need still need to be addressed.

Prof. Clutton-Brock hopes to see more innovation in head injury monitoring.

His team has just finished a project that measured head injury severity in paediatric patients.

He explains:

“A huge number of children admitted to hospital overnight don’t need to be.

“We probably err on the side of caution. We see the same thing in sport.

“The ability to show you that you actually haven’t been concussed would be hugely useful, not only to patients but also our overwhelmed health service.”

                Prof. Tom Clutton-Brock

There is also more that tech can be doing to augment the physio process, Prof. Clutton-Brock adds:

“If AI could do some of the repetitive tasks that physios now do, that would be massively beneficial to the process.”

However, for AI and digital technology to reach their potential, medical device regulations will have to adapt fast.

The MHRA has a dedicated team working in this space, but things change very quickly. It’s vital that new technologies are shown to be both effective and safe.

Prof. Clutton-Brock says:

“It’s not simply a question of writing a computer programme. It’s more complex than that and it needs proper testing.

“The work is there and the facilities are there. We’re very much involved in that process.”

One major aim of the NIHR Trauma MIC and MD-TEC is to help companies gain regulatory approval by demonstrating that their technology can be used safely and works as intended.

To support with this, MD-TEC has its own operating theatre, intensive care beds, GP surgery, outpatient area and ambulance.

Prof Clutton-Brock says:

“Testing is expensive. If you’re a small company, you don’t want to go out and buy a £10,000 mannequin to test your product on.

“Whereas we have all the facilities here to test your product over a couple of days. There’s no need to make that huge initial investment.”

The NIHR Trauma MIC and MD-TEC work alongside Birmingham Health Partners (BHP), including the University of Birmingham and Aston University.

BHP is a strategic health alliance that brings together local NHS trusts and academic institutions.

Prof. Clutton-Brock notes that the majority of medicine is not carried out in big university hospitals, so having other more diverse trusts, and patient populations, is crucial.

He says:

“Typical volunteers are not representative of the country’s population.

“So working with a broader spectrum of trusts is hugely attractive for us. That’s what BHP brings.”

Prof. Clutton-Brock is looking forward to seeing a number of big projects come to fruition before the year is out.

“There are very few places that do what we do in the UK, and we’re very keen to keep bringing in new business.”



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