An interdisciplinary hub of expertise in regenerative medicine, orthopaedics, prosthetics and assistive technologies.

The musculoskeletal challenges described above form part of a wider landscape, where diabetic amputations have increased to 7,000 per year in the UK, an estimated 40,000 in India and over 70,000 in the USA. Almost 300 Service personnel suffered traumatic limb loss in recent UK military operations in the Middle East, with over a third involving significant multiple amputations. Amputees will require sophisticated rehabilitation and, even with modern medicine, specialised care for years to come. Meanwhile, in large parts of the developing world, few have access to orthopaedic surgery, modern prosthetics or assistive technologies, so we must develop intelligent, low-cost solutions to meet those needs. At the Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS), our response to these challenges is to launch FortisNet (‘Fortis’ meaning ‘strong’): an interdisciplinary, collaborative network in hard and soft tissue research.

“No single group or research team has all the expertise. The problems users face are so complex and multifaceted that we really need to pull in all the expertise for the delivery of new technology.” Dr David Moser, Head of Research, Chas. A. Blatchford & Sons

Led by the IfLS Director, Professor Peter JS Smith, FortisNet focuses on three interwoven themes at the engineering-life sciences interface:

Components: Growing and replacing hard and soft tissues (e.g. stem cell therapy for fractures; novel scaffold materials for seeding stem cells; retrieval and analysis of failed implants; understanding the biology of implant failure; design of better joint replacements)

Limbs: Prosthetics and augmentation (e.g. optimised fit of prosthetic limbs; smart prosthetic liner materials; device design and usability; energetics of gait; user-reported outcomes data and analytics)

Individual: Assistive technology and rehabilitation (e.g. neurorehabilitation after stroke; robotics; better clinical trial design; reducing complications from rheumatoid arthritis; managing frailty)

“My own career providing insights into musculoskeletal disease, notably osteoporosis, has taught me the value of interdisciplinary endeavour. FortisNet offers this and more, putting our specialised and broad-based expertise in the UK firmly on the map.” Professor Cyrus Cooper

The aim of the network is to develop products and processes that will improve lives, attract new businesses and create jobs for our skilled graduates. Importantly, we want to do this by connecting clinicians, enterprise, end-users and academic researchers, so that our research challenges clearly serve clinical, end-user and market needs. An internal platform network of over 40 leading researchers and clinicians at the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust have joined experts from UK universities, hospitals, industry, local government, defence organisations, health networks and the end-users of research to begin shaping the research priorities for FortisNet. At a launch event in January, new collaborative projects received pump-priming support from an EPSRC Institutional Award, while foundations were laid for large, industry-driven initiatives.

We welcome new members. If you share our collegiate, interdisciplinary vision and want to help shape  the future of musculoskeletal research, please contact the IfLS Collaboration Manager, Dr Alexandra Mant