Biomedical engineering centre of excellence established

The University of Birmingham and Southeast University (SEU) have signed a new agreement to develop new biomedical technologies that could help to fight diseases and aid regeneration of the human body.

Establishing a Joint Research Institute (JRI) in Biomedical Engineering will allow the partners to work on applied research projects that will use the University of Birmingham’s expertise to strengthen innovation in Jiangsu Province across a range of biomedical technologies.

The University of Birmingham reports its contribution to the partnership is led by its Healthcare Technologies Institute (HTI). The Southeast University Institute of Biomedical Devices (IBMD) in Suzhou has a similar focus to Birmingham’s HTI with strong links to the Chinese Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Partners will call on their expertise to develop programmes leading to products that can help improve health outcomes for patients in China. The first biomedical themes to be established in the JRI will be ocular drug/cell delivery and protection, osteoinductive materials, switchable biological surfaces and molecular diagnostic technologies, and brain image analysis. These themes represent areas of both critical need in the clinic and R&D strength within the new JRI.

Designing a drug delivery system to target particular areas of the eye is a major challenge for scientists. The partners’ expertise will help to develop more effective products to help treat a range of eyesight conditions.

Research strength in osteoinductive materials could help to develop more effective bone grafting treatments and overcome the limitations of relying on donated bone tissue.

Expertise in molecular science will allow the creation of surfaces that can, for example, capture a specific molecule, immobilise a cell or change the activity of a molecule. This could help to create coatings to prevent bacterial growth or drive new developments in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.

Brain image analysis, requiring both sophisticated imaging technologies and complex computational analysis, is critical in the diagnosis and management of people with conditions such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

The partners signed a framework agreement in a special ceremony in Suzhou. University of Birmingham Provost, Professor Tim Jones, said “The University of Birmingham is a global leader in biomedical engineering through our Healthcare Technologies Institute. Our involvement in this Joint Research Institute brings with it access to the Life Science eco-system of the Greater Birmingham region. Technologies can enter the UK market through the formation of spin-out companies in the BioHub business incubator park, generate clinical trial data through world-leading hospitals in trauma, orthopaedics, burns and cancer care, and the business grown at the Birmingham Life Science Park. With the same opportunity to commercialise and scale in Suzhou, the Joint Research Institute will provide truly bench-to-market pathways in both territories.”

The new JRI will host a number of PhD students working on joint projects, helping to develop a new generation of Chinese biomedical engineering experts.

Dr Richard Williams, from the University of Birmingham’s Healthcare Technologies Institute, said “While we have the assets and experience to take technologies from the lab bench to the clinic, it is critical that we pass on best practice to new generations of innovators. The joint PhD programme will give students the opportunity to follow the development of their technology from concept towards a finished product ready to enter pre-clinical or even clinical trials.”

Both the University of Birmingham and SEU have strong links with their respective national healthcare technology regulatory bodies. This will help to ease co-developing, translating and commercialising novel healthcare products into UK, EU and Chinese markets.

SEU has allocated space within its IBMD facility at Suzhou Hi-tech Park to build a state of the art medical technologies development laboratory to host JRI projects.

Research opportunities could also cover nano fabrication, advanced manufacturing and electronic information systems. The partnership also strengthens links between Jiangsu Province and the City of Birmingham in medical research and development.

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