The sky no limit for Highlands and Islands medical research



The Highlands and Islands of Scotland’s pioneering role in research into rural digital health is reaching new heights today as the region joins forces with space and satellite technology experts.

A strong link is being established between Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Satellite Applications Catapult, which is an independent innovation and technology company working on behalf of the UK industry to catalyse economic growth in the space sector.

The joint group’s academic and industry experts will help push the region’s research in new technologies forward into the development of commercial products. This will benefit a variety of sectors including energy and engineering, but there will be early focus on digital healthcare, resolving problems associated with delivering high standards of medical services to remote communities.

The project builds on HIE’s work to position the region as a prime location for innovative businesses which can work with science and technology experts to unlock new market opportunities and create growth. Its estimated the global space market could be worth £400bn by 2030.

One way in which satellite technology in rural locations can help make life changing differences is in the way communities receive medical care.  Rapid stroke diagnosis through home-based brain scanning is already being developed in the region by University of Aberdeen researchers at the Centre for Rural Health in Inverness. Research Fellow Dr Alasdair Mort commented “Delivering emergency medical care to patients in the predominantly remote and rural Highlands and Islands is very difficult traditionally. If we can use novel technology to better link patients with remote experts then we have a real chance at improving patient outcome, in particular for those who have suffered a stroke.”

Tuesday 28 January HIE and the Catapult are officially marking their partnership by signing a Memorandum of Understanding at the Centre for Health Science based in Inverness, bringing new technology and communications expertise to the region.

Alex Paterson, Chief Executive of HIE, said: “While the idea of working in space technology sounds a bit like science fiction, the benefits for the Highlands and Islands are very real. The capabilities and uses of satellites are a perfect fit with our region’s current innovations in developing a digital region. By bringing together businesses, academics and industry experts we can develop products and services which will change the way we live and work, particularly benefiting remote and rural locations.”

The Catapult is one of seven innovation centres set up by the Technology Strategy Board, the UK’s innovation agency, with the aim of driving economic growth through commercialisation of research.

Stuart Martin, the Chief Executive of the Satellite Applications Catapult commented: “The HIE initiative, and the emerging opportunities in the region, fit perfectly with the Catapult’s remit. We work with industry, researchers and academia to explore and develop new ideas. Through this collaboration and the use of satellite data, our related experts are well placed to develop some innovative healthcare and life science solutions to help those living in rural and remote areas of the Highlands and Islands. Looking forward, through the Catapult network and partnerships, these solutions can then be rolled out across other remote areas of the UK, with Scotland leading the way.”

Today, we are also launching an innovative business project which has located in Moray at the Enterprise Park Forres.  Morton Manufacturing Ltd is developing a mobile satellite-enabled communications hub and is being supported by HIE with funding towards its research and development. The product, known as Omni-Hub, has the ability to connect to a wide range of medical equipment, and then can store, receive or transmit detail via a private network using the best available technology – be that satellite, wi-fi or cellular.

Peter Morton has been developing the device with the support of HIE and the Catapult. He commented: “The geography of the Highlands and Islands gives us the perfect location for field trials for the Hub and we have already been testing it in on and off-road locations across the region, including in Shetland, the Outer Hebrides, and along the coast in NW Sutherland. The capabilities of this portable equipment to stream video, audio and allow real time communication between medical teams could prove invaluable to first responders making a diagnosis at the scene of an emergency.

“Working in the Highlands and Islands has been a breath of fresh air. The pace in which HIE has supported the project and the impressive range of high level local contacts I’ve been introduced to has been invaluable in getting to this stage. I look forward to continuing to work with HIE as we develop a plan to get our product into the marketplace, creating valuable manufacturing jobs in the region.”

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