Article - Issue 48, September 2011

Response to: Modelling Health and Disease; Collaborative Research

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Response to: Modelling Health and Disease

The recent article by Dr Clare Sansom (Ingenia 47) gives an interesting insight into the enormous potential of the Virtual Physiological Human project. The top-class research by those working on the virtual heart has blazed a trail that other teams are now starting to follow. However, there are clearly many technical challenges to be overcome if this research area is to fulfi ll its true clinical impact.

It was reassuring to see the diffi culties with standards and software, which are crucial technical parts of this eff ort, being mentioned and their importance underlined. These components can too easily be neglected and models developed that are never exploited technically or clinically. The work on mark-up languages (such as CellML) is an important step in this direction and one that ensures that diff erent types of model can be stored in a common repository for wider exploitation. Ongoing development to ensure that all types of model can be stored is vital and this is an area that will need increased attention.

However, in addition to this, a further challenge worth mentioning here is the issue of model validation. One of the exciting aspects of the multi-scale models that are developed is that there is the potential for multi-scale validation, building on diff erent varieties of experimental data. However, it can too easily be the case that not enough attention is paid to quantitative validation. In the case of the virtual heart, there has been enormous eff ort to exploit what is a very wide range of experimental modalities (from cellular experiments to ECG to MRI) for validation. This has been helped by the clinical importance of cardiac disease driving experimental development.

In other body organs, there is often much less experimental data. Yet without quantitative validation, it will be impossible to close the loop between experimental data and modelling. Validation provides far more than showing that a model is ‘correct’: what is often more interesting is when model and data disagree, such that new hypotheses have to be generated, new experiments performed and new understanding can be gained.

A lack of quantitative validation has the potential to lead to irrelevance of any project outcomes without this demonstration of both reliability and exploitability. It is to be hoped that validation will be to the fore as the VPH project develops what has the potential to be a true breakthrough in both modelling and clinical practice.

Dr Stephen Payne
University Lecturer,
Institute of Biomedical Engineering,
Department of Engineering Science,
University of Oxford.

 

Response to: Collaborative Research

The article by Rolls-Royce in Ingenia 47 provided a good insight into how collaborative research is delivering industrial benefits through the creation of a network of manufacturing research centres in the UK. However, the range and scale of government, regional, industrial and academic support extends even further than that for University Technology Centres.

There are currently five new manufacturing research centres being established in England and Scotland. The  centres are designed to help academics and their industrial partners take ideas from the university laboratory to factory production – the so called “valley of death” between technology readiness levels 4 and 6. Government has invested over £100 million in the centres to help create competitive advantage for the UK. Investment has come from BIS, TSB, Regional Development Agencies (Yorkshire Forward, East Midlands Development Agency, Advantage West Midlands, South West Regional Development Agency, North West Development Agency), Scottish Enterprise and the European Regional Development Fund. The money has contributed to the purchase of land, the construction of buildings, the purchase of specialist equipment and the funding of research projects.

One example is the WFL M100 mill-turn machine shown in your article which was purchased by East Midlands Development Agency (emda). This state-of-the-art machine is being utilised by a number of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) industrial members to develop advanced manufacturing methods for high integrity components, including Roll-Royce who are looking at gas turbine shaft manufacture. Targeted improvement areas include reduction in machine cutting times, reduction in manual intervention and improved product quality. This example of emda funding equipment into a centre outside their region is a testament to how joined-up thinking can result in research in one area benefiting job creation in another, but with overall benefit to the UK.

By becoming industrial members of these centres, large, medium and small enterprises alike get access to research of real value which can reduce risk and shorten lead times to market. Members include industry-leading original equipment manufacturers such as BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Airbus, and GKN, as well as enterprises in the supply chain such as Tata Steel and Mori Seiki. The most established of the research centres, AMRC, already has over 60 industrial members.

In March 2011, Business Secretary Dr Vince Cable recognised the value of this approach to technology development when he announced plans to bring the manufacturing research centres together with the Centre for Process Innovation and the Warwick Manufacturing Group to form the country’s first Technology Innovation Centre for High Value Manufacturing. These centres will help UK industry capitalise on the future global market opportunities and create high tech jobs by drawing on the UK’s leading edge academic research to create the high value added manufacturing products of the future. The significant government funding will be used to expand the infrastructure, equipment and specialist skills, to deliver increased social, economic and industrial benefits.

I believe that this novel approach will undoubtedly improve UK competitiveness providing that we maintain a consistency of purpose and commitment to reinvigorate the UK manufacturing sector.

Professor Keith Ridgway OBE FREng
Research Director, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing University of Sheffield

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