The scientist in me never fails to be excited by interdisciplinary working, whereas the manager in me simply marvels at what can often be achieved in a relatively short space of time. In fact, evidence shows that this approach to research has the potential to increase the pace of discovery exponentially.
Interdisciplinary research, hence the name, is where researchers from different disciplines work together on a project to solve a common problem. The ultimate aim of this in the field of health sciences is to create a greater positive impact on the lives of service users.
For example, our Rehabilitation and Health Technologies research group, led by Professor Jane Burridge, benefits from the presence of expert individuals from fields including: clinical science, neuroscience and biomechanical research; sensor, control, and signal processing engineering; as well as behavioural and health psychology.
As a result, this group has made significant findings to inform practice in inform upper limb stoke recovery – principally the successful application of robotics technology thanks in part to the help and support of colleagues from Engineering. In this case researchers applied an industrial process to help address a particular clinical problem in a way that had never been done before. The result will be improved quality of life or faster recovery for people who are recovering from stroke.
In addition, our Innovative and Essential Care research group, led by Professor Sue latter, calls on the knowledge and talents of a whole host of eminent thinkers, including those from medicine, nursing, sociology, psychology, pharmacology, health economics and web science. This has aided the group in accurately appraising practice, as well as making evidence based recommendations to improve both the efficiency and the effectiveness of care.
A prime example of this research that has made a real and lasting impact to healthcare services is the work on non-medical prescribing. The team were commissioned by the Department of Health to undertake a national study to inform policy, education and practice when it comes to prescribing by nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals.
Our Associate Dean for Research, Professor Mandy Fader, is currently working with scientists from other disciplines through the University’s Institute for Life Sciences to discover new ways to prevent biofilms forming in drips, urinary catheters and other hospital equipment. Findings in this area can be used in the fight against hospital acquired infections, which is one of the biggest challenges in modern healthcare.
Biofilms, I should mention, are groups of cells that bind together on a surface; therefore giving them a collective strength that makes them an incredible one thousand times as tolerant to antibiotics. They are probably best known for being a source of hospital acquired infections like MSRA.
Through her interdisciplinary activities Professor Fader is part of one of the largest concentrations of biofilm researchers in Europe: a group that is, among other things, working determinedly to develop and test materials that are resistant to biofims.
A particularly recent example of interdisciplinary research at the University is the work being carried out into developing a prototype of the world’s first prosthetic ‘intelligent’ liner with integrated pressure sensors, to relieve the pain and discomfort experienced by thousands of amputees as a result of poorly fitting replacement lower limbs. The product could even be available on the NHS in as little as three years.
This relatively practical and potentially low-cost solution could substantially reduce amputees’ follow-up visits to their rehabilitation centres, giving them a better quality of life and at the same time reducing healthcare costs.
As Dean of Health Sciences I am delighted to be part of an institution that seeks to capitalise on individual strengths by engendering and nurturing an interdisciplinary ethos. Research communities like those I have outlined represent so much more than just the sum of their parts.