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Digital healthcare, medical technologies and devices, and diagnostics are all going to improve human health while addressing challenges faced by global health and care systems. Challenges include an ageing population, a rise in unhealthy lifestyles, an associated rise in long term conditions and constraints placed on health and care budgets.
Centre for Health Science: The Centre in Inverness offers a wide range of research and expertise, with access to clinical trials and contract research. The Highland Diabetes Institute, a collaboration of the health service, academia and a large commercial company, is an example of the highly collaborative envirnoment. Alongside, four universities are active across medical, nursing and dentistry education. There are always opportunities for collaborative research projects in the Centre for Health Science, in particular in the areas of diabetes, genetics, telehealthcare and digital medicine, rural health, lipidomics and clinical trials.
University of the Highlands and Islands: The Rural Health and Wellbeing group aims to advance knowledge of health and health services in rural and remote communities. Using applied social science, the unit’s work in digital health focuses on how technology can be used in new ways to deliver health services in rural areas. This involves the design, testing and evaluation of technology to advance understanding of the digital infrastructure, organisational, professional and cultural barriers to the use of technology in rural services. The department of Diabetes and Cardiovascular Science is conducting extensive research, primarily into the causes and consequences of diabetes, but also into a wide range of clinical conditions; most notably cardiovascular diseases, inflammatory diseases, novel nitric oxide donor drugs linked to nano-dots and cancer. The department is also home to the Free Radical Research Facility and Lipodomics Research Facility and has research expertise in genetics, immunology and lipidomics. The university adopts an open innovation policy, which allows them to be involved in research and prototyping with commercial companies without any requirement to have a share in the IP of the product.
University of Aberdeen: The Centre for Rural Health at the Centre for Health Science focuses on technolgoy solutions for health (ehealth) as one of its research themes. For example, the SatCare project aims to extend the capabilities of paramedics, allowing live interaction with remotely-based doctors and equipment. During this randomised controlled trial, ultrasound assessments of patients with shock, major trauma, chest pain or breathlessness take place in Highland Scottish Ambulance Service ambulances.
NHS Highland: The Highland Clinical Research Facility, NHS Highland Research Development & Innovation, the Highland Surgical Research Facility are all located in the Centre for Health Science. Frances Hines, Research, Development & Innovation Manager at NHS Highland, explains the organisation’s multi-pronged approach to fostering innovation: “We encourage partners to come to us with new innovations, and carry out processes to see if they are commercially viable - some businesses have a completely new idea, others want to try and do something on a larger scale than they have been able to previously, either way they can work with our technology programme to design suitable tests.”
Scottish National Reference Laboratories: Located at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness are the Scottish Toxoplasma Reference Laboratory and National Lyme Borreliosis Testing Laboratory. They povide support to guide the clinical management of individual patients, an analytical and advisory service to the NHS and Health Protection Scotland. Each laboratory maintains an archive of samples that contributes to research, quality assurance, audit and teaching. The recently announced Lyme Disease Centre for Excellence adds additional investment to this growing cluster of reserach linking human and animal health in the region.
A range of companies are active in the Highlands and Islands - listed below is a small selection:
Dr Richard Day from Highland Biosciences: “It’s a good location for international business because people know where you’re from when you mention Loch Ness. Getting to places is easy thanks to Inverness Airport. I can get to a meeting in Cambridge quicker than people from London!”
Professor Sandra MacRury, Professor of clinical Diabetes and Head of Rural Health and Wellbeing at UHI, said: “The Highlands is a great place to be based, as there is a burgeoning research scene. Here you can make collaborative projects work across academia, the NHS and industry. We always say that if it works in the Highlands, it will work anywhere, as connectivity in the more remote areas can be very challenging. However, there are a lot of isolated people in urban areas too, and the practice is moving towards discouraging travel and seeing patients in their homes, so the models we are developing will also be used elsewhere.”