Scots ideas are widely-ackowledged as providing the building blocks of much of modern medicine. As our latest crop of healthcare technologists head for Medica 2015, what’s behind that history of innovation and how is it shaping up today?
If Scottish-born Alexander Fleming hadn't been such an untidy scientist, we would never have the life-saving drugs we have today. His discovery of a mould growing in one of his culture dishes that killed the surrounding bacteria prompted one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the 20th century.
The start of innovation in healthcare is inextricably linked to the 18th century Scottish Age of Enlightenment.
Fleming was not the only Scots pioneer. In fact, the start of innovation in healthcare is inextricably linked to the 18th century Scottish Age of Enlightenment. Scientific and medical knowledge was one its central pillars. Many of the key thinkers were trained as physicians or had studied science and medicine at university. Unlike England or European countries like France or Austria, their thinking was not restricted by powerful aristocratic patrons.
Inventing modern medicine
In medicine, Edinburgh became a major centre of medical teaching and research. Throughout the 17th century and first half of the 18th, the Edinburgh Medical School was the pre-eminent medical school in the English-speaking world. Graduates of the medical school went on to found the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, McGill University Faculty of Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School, Yale School of Medicine, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, University of Vermont College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School.
Back to the future
Scotland’s tradition of doing things first included the use of chloroform and antiseptics during operating procedures, and continued, in the 1980’s, in the work of Sir Alfred Cushieri at Dundee’s Ninewell’s hospital where he pioneered keyhole surgery.
Scotland's modern industries have contributed to a rich outpouring of fresh ideas with a remarkable degree of cross-fertilisation. For example, textiles companies have given rise to medical companies, such as Vascutek and Perident. They used their expertise in textile manufacturing to bring medical products to market, including vascular and cardiovascular technologies, and interdental cleaning devices and materials.
A rich ecosystem
Nikon Optos who make ultra-widefield (UWF™), high resolution digital retina scanners, and Lab901 with their electrophoresis products, both benefited from the strong microelectronics industry in Scotland. Their ideas were applied to the medical market.
Cytosystems is another very contemporary pioneer, with an idea to greatly improve existing bladder cancer tests, without disrupting work practices. In the words of Nigel Mclean, their product manager. “Following on from the extremely encouraging results of our initial 1,000 patient clinical trial for a urine-based diagnostic test for bladder cancer, Cytosystems is rapidly moving towards gaining MHRA and FDA approval. Securing a multi-million pound source of funding has given us the resources required to complete a phase 2 multi-centred clinical trial and achieve MHRA and FDA approval."
We draw upon the talent within local universities, teaching hospitals, and SME’s, together with the support from various innovation grants which help to support early-stage projects.
Nigel Mclean, Cytosystems
Surrounded by support
"Cytosystems is benefiting from being based in Scotland as a result of being close to major markets via our proximity to international airports. We draw upon the talent within local universities, teaching hospitals, and SME’s together with the support from various innovation grants which help to support early-stage projects through to assistance with reaching out to the market once products are at the commercialisation stage. "
Scotland takes the lead in technical innovation, and has a much greater number of tech start-ups per capita than the rest of the UK.
Justin Birley, International Sales Manager, Epipole.
Bringing new ideas to life
For Epipole's Justin Birley, creators of the first portable retinal camera tuned specifically to the world's most prolific retinal disease, Scotland is a good place to bring new ideas to life. "Scotland takes the lead in technical innovation, and has a much greater number of tech start-ups per capita than the rest of the UK. Then there are the strong academic links and partnering opportunities with universities and access to research data."
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