The Royal Academy of Engineering held a conference on 19 November that explored the impact biomedical engineering has had on society. To celebrate its 20-year anniversary the UK Focus for Biomedical Engineering group organised a conference and a lecture which examined the future of engineering in healthcare. The conference featured speakers covering topics such as imaging, surgery, therapy, patient monitoring and emerging technologies.

During the keynote lecture Professor David Delpy illustrated how the use of engineering and medical devices had aided a patient in recuperating from cancer. Through the ensuing discussions it was noted that there is still much work to be done in getting engineers and clinicians to communicate and interact effectively, as the ‘clinical pull’ and ‘technology push’ had to combine to provide better overall healthcare for patients. Several issues around translation and adoption of technology into the NHS were explored.

Many interesting and revolutionary technologies were discussed. There has been great progress over the last 20 years, with the adoption of MRI, robots in surgery and regenerative medicine. However the future of healthcare will be increasingly shaped by engineering, particularly as we move further towards the concept of personalised medicine.

A healthcare revolution is already underway, where the vision is of each patient receiving treatment specific to their particular needs. Personalised medicine is being driven both by emerging technologies and social attitudes about consumer choice. Billions of pounds are wasted every year in the UK on drugs and treatments failing to be effective for large numbers of patients. Using an individual gene profile, drug therapy can be tailored to suit the patient.

The population and disease profile in the UK has changed; people are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions, such as diabetes, than acute conditions. This has resulted in an increased demand for hospital beds. Patient monitoring for chronic and non-severe conditions can be achieved away from the hospital by using mobile phones. This frees hospital beds and saves the NHS money as health professionals are more likely to spot and treat problems earlier.

The annual lecture which followed the conference was delivered by Professor Jon Cooper FREng FRSE, who showed how micro and nano technologies will revolutionise medicine. Synthetic biology, although a relatively new discipline, could completely change the way we view biology, medicine and even life itself. Professor Cooper sits on the Academy working group on synthetic biology, which will soon publish the findings of its study.

The meeting concluded that engineering still offers vast potential to improve health and healthcare. Interdisciplinary working is vital, and the UK Focus provides a valuable forum for engineers, clinicians and other interested parties to come together to debate and act upon the important issues facing health today.

Notes for editors

  1. The UK Focus group provides a forum through which the principal organisations concerned with biomedical engineering can communicate; debate and work together to improve the diagnosis and treatment of major medical conditions. The UK Focus for Biomedical Engineering was established in 1993 under the auspices of The Royal Academy of Engineering. The Executive Committee meets quarterly and comprises Fellows and representatives of a number of independent organisations active in the field of biomedical engineering.
  2. In 1987 The Academy was invited to submit evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee inquiry into priorities in medical research. A working group was formed to investigate the role of engineering in medicine and produced a report, entitled Priorities in Medical Research, which was published in 1990. The report concluded that a hub for biomedical engineering in the UK was necessary to influence policy and provide a focal point for activities. Following a conference held in 1991 on Improving Patient Care: The Biomedical Engineering Challenge, the UK Focus for Biomedical Engineering was established.
  3. Professor David Delpy FREng FMedSci FRS, is the Chief Executive of EPSRC.
  4. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - including the UK's most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain's engineering community.

For more information please contact

Iffat Memon at The Royal Academy of Engineering
tel. 020 7766 0653