New £25m research and teaching centre at RNOH, Stanmore

7 May 2014

The Wearable Assistive Materials Project, from researchers at UCL Engineering, is working to develop novel materials that can provide a lightweight, easy to wear exoskeleton for those having difficulty walking. Image courtesy of Mark Ransley and Newsbyte

Plans to build a new £25m biomedical engineering facility at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore, were announced today. The latest project in the £250m long-term development of the site will add facilities to develop and test new medical devices in partnership with their users. This unification of research and treatment capabilities aims to unlock the potential of technology to improve patient wellbeing.

A joint initiative between UCL (University College London) and the RNOH, the centre is due to be opened in 2017 and is the latest phase of a vision to create a world leading biomedical engineering hub on the site. The new centre will focus on work in the fields of bioengineering and biomaterials.

Grasp assist 1

A robot exoskeleton for retraining hand grip and release in individuals with spinal, brain and sport injuries, and muscular dystrophy. The device adjusts to different hand sizes and enables training in key movements

Research currently underway in the UCL-RNOH partnership led by the UCL Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science (within the Division of Surgery, includes the development of materials for a unique wearable exoskeleton, assistive technology for people with spinal injuries and the safe packaging of implants to replace damaged electrical function in the body.  The new development will provide hospital-grade facilities to translate these and other laboratory-based innovations into real changes in patients’ lives.

A new undergraduate programme, leading to a ‘Technical Medicine BSc’ qualification, will be developed at UCL between the faculties of Engineering and Medical Sciences to provide talented individuals with the integrated physical, medical and engineering sciences training they need to work in this area. Students on the programme will draw on the cross-disciplinary excellence of UCL and the unique Stanmore centre.

In a joint statement, Professor David Lomas, Dean of UCL’s Faculty of Medical Sciences and Professor Anthony Finkelstein, Dean of UCL’s Faculty of Engineering Sciences, said:

“The fragility of the human body, particularly in the context of an ageing population, means there are an ever-growing number of people who rely on technology to keep their dignity, independence and quality of life.

Innovation and engagement through the design, prototyping and fabrication of novel medical devices will be at the core of the new facility. It will contribute significantly to UCL’s teaching, research and direct engagement with clinicians and industry partners.

RNOH Stanmore is an excellent location for this broad and exciting vision. It trains one-third of the UK’s orthopaedic surgeons and this specialised hospital is unrivalled in terms of the musculoskeletal conditions and patient numbers that it treats.

By partnering with Stanmore we have gained excellent links with surgeons, medical staff and patient communities. We have already established a strong basis of existing projects for world-leading changes and look forward doing more work that will change lives.”



£250m redevelopment plans
Other new projects planned for the Stanmore site include a state-of-the-art specialist private hospital, and a family accommodation unit (Princess Eugenie House) and an independent living assessment centre, both of which will be funded by the hospital’s charitable appeal.

ROBIN system

ROBIN is a system currently being developed at UCL for whole-arm therapy following a spinal or brain injury. The system is able to support multiple exercises, providing grasp and full upper limb movement over a large workspace whilst sitting or standing.

Rob Hurd, RNOH Chief Executive said:  “All of this is being achieved without reliance on external funding. We will have at our disposal around £80million from sales of our land resources, charitable funding and our ever-growing academic partnership with UCL. We have proven that we can stand on our own two feet and are on a very strong financial footing.”

The RNOH is now at the final stage of agreeing the main phase of the £90 million site redevelopment. Local authority planning permission was granted in March 2013 and discussions are progressing with the Trust Development Authority on the detail of the deal structure with a preferred bidder. Final Government approval to the business plan has been obtained and once Treasury and the Department of Health approve the funding models it is anticipate that building will start by 2015.

Mr. Hurd added: “It is a very exciting time for the RNOH. Every day our staff do amazing things; delivering life changing treatments and leading pioneering research projects – but they have been working in a physical environment that is not fit for purpose. Care for patients is being delivered in dilapidated conditions – 60% of the site’s current buildings are more than 60 years old, with many patient wards originally only designated for temporary war-time use.

“For 30 years the hospital site has been in desperate need of redevelopment but at long last this need is about to be met.”

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