EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Neurotechnology for Life and Health

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Bioengineering


Neurotechnology is the use of insights and tools from mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and engineering to investigate neural function and treat dysfunction; and additionally, the development of novel technology inspired by neuroscience. Brain-related illnesses affect more than two billion people worldwide, and add an annual burden which has been estimated to exceed $US 2.2 trillion. This is exacerbated by the aging societal demographic in most industrialized nations, including the UK: many brain disorders, such as dementia, are closely linked to age. There is a real need to solve this problem before it becomes an impossible burden for the economy to carry. The Centre for Doctoral Training in Neurotechnology for Life and Health will train a unique cadre of multidisciplinary researchers, who will combine an understanding of their neuroscience problem with skills in technology development, to make groundbreaking advances in our ability to treat brain disorders and to improve the quality of life and health in the UK.

There is a strong need for such a pool of researchers in the UK now. Advances in treatments for brain disorders have to date relied largely upon a purely pharmaceutical approach, however the development of completely new drugs has slowed to a trickle as we have run into the "wall of complexity" where the cost of finding new drugs which do not have intolerable side effects becomes insurmountable. "High throughput" approaches have only pushed this wall back a year or two - as Peter Mueller of Vertex commented to us, "we need to shift our thinking from high throughput to high content". Our industry partners have emphasized to us that a new, engineering-driven approach is needed, to develop new solutions for uncovering that content.

A key driver behind the development of this CDT bid has been the need for PhD level graduates with a multidisciplinary training, who bring with them both a detailed understanding of a translational neuroscience question, and the strong background in technology development needed to develop solutions. Our industry partners have all emphasized that the lack of availability of such researchers is currently a major limiting factor in their development prospects. By addressing this skills shortage, the CDT will have a major long-term impact on our ability to intervene in brain disorders, enhancing both academic and industrial research efforts to find solutions.

"There is an unmet requirement for PhD graduates with a combined expertise in engineering and neuroscience and the proposed CDT in Neurotechnology will help to address this shortage" Jonas Gårding, Research & Physics Director Neuroscience, Elekta Instrument AB

"The program that you propose to develop at the interface of neuroscience and engineering will produce PhD graduates with the potential to make major contributions to our research objectives" Kris Famm, PhD, VP Bioelectronics R&D, GlaxoSmithKline

"We believe that the research conducted at the centre will have the potential to have a significant impact on the Parkinson's research field and ultimately on the lives of Parkinson's patients" Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Innovation, Parkinson's UK.

Planned Impact

The research and training of this CDT will positively impact the lives of many people, patients and the wider economy and society. Our many partners from industry, academia, charity and government have endorsed the need for this CDT, to bring a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to neurotechnology research and deliver graduates with a combined expertise in engineering and neuroscience, and the transferrable skills to translate innovations into practice.
This CDT has the potential to improve the prophylaxis, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of brain-related illnesses, which affect more than 2 billion people worldwide, and thus impact the lives of patients, their carers and healthcare providers who often have no effective diagnostic tools or drugs. In addition, the UK healthcare system will benefit from the CDT; engagement with healthcare providers will enhance impact through early access and the rapid and widespread adoption of novel treatments and solutions. Healthcare policymakers in the UK will have improved insight into the next generation of technologies. The aging population places a growing strain on the NHS and the Centre will help alleviate this burden, e.g. through advances in the early diagnosis and treatment of dementia and other solutions for lifelong health. The application of technologies arising from the CDT extends beyond the healthcare field, and has potential to impact stakeholders in many other sectors, from ICT and consumer electronics to manufacturing and defence.
Industry partners across diverse disciplines (e.g. medical devices, pharmaceuticals & consumer products), will benefit from involvement in the CDT. The infrastructure will enable and support their participation in research that informs development of future products. The multidisciplinary knowledge transfer network embodied by the CDT will provide them access to expertise and clinical collaborators, stimulating product innovation and development. CDT graduates will deliver industry partners access to highly-skilled researchers through sponsored studentships, internships and ultimately as potential future employees. Charity partners will benefit from exposure to, and a cost-effective way to support, leading research in their field.
Through our broad communication strategy, the global neurotechnology field and wider research community will benefit from the establishment of this new world-leading Centre of collaborative, externalised, multidisciplinary training and research excellence. Furthermore, through public engagement and outreach activities, the UK public will benefit from increased awareness and understanding of neurotechnology and the related economic, societal and ethical issues, increasing participation and instigating new opportunities within academia, industry and among the wider society.
The CDT will make Imperial College the hub of interactions in this field, leading to long-term benefit for the UK economy. In addition to direct inward investment in the form of studentships and support-in-kind for research and training, the intellectual property generated will seed further investment for follow-on research programs and the development of products through partners, licensees and spinouts. All stakeholders in these innovative companies, including shareholders, employees, customers and suppliers, will ultimately benefit from the CDT. The creation and growth of companies will boost employment opportunities and enhance business revenue, license income and innovation in the UK knowledge economy, leading to wealth creation and economic prosperity.
By supporting coordinated, multidisciplinary training and research at the interface of industry and academia in the emerging neurotechnology field at a leading University, EPSRC will make a profound contribution to developing a highly skilled workforce, a flourishing higher education sector and knowledge economy, driving socioeconomic benefit to the UK for years to come.


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