Steven's study of the noise of joints wins Global Entrepreneur placement in the USA

Published: 13 January 2009 at 10:21

Research student develops new technology that could save the NHS millions

Steven Abbott, a Post Doctoral Researcher in the Faculty of Health and Social Care at Anglia Ruskin University, has been awarded a place on the NCGE’s prestigious Flying Start Global Entrepreneurs programme to turn his innovative research into a high impact, high technology business.

Specialist training in the UK, led by the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship (NCGE) and NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) over the past six months, has been helping Steven develop his business idea.

This weekend Steven departs for the United States to start his six-month placement with the world-famous Kauffman Foundation, fully funded by the NCGE. Meanwhile, Anglia Ruskin has put in place valuable support to enable his innovative research to continue and for the technology to be commercialised.

Alongside ten other 2009 Flying Start Global Entrepreneurs selected as our most promising graduate entrepreneurs in science, technology, engineering and maths from universities in England and Northern Ireland, Steven will, meet some of America's most innovative entrepreneurial thinkers; this includes visits to three of the most celebrated universities in America: Stanford, Harvard, and the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Finally, Steven will work at a leading American company gaining experience to enhance his entrepreneurial knowledge and skills.

This flagship international scheme is fully funded by the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship (NCGE) and provided in association with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

Becoming a Flying Start Global Entrepreneur is a huge privilege. The scheme is open to all English universities, but it is very competitive – each candidate must be recommended by staff at their university as one of this country's most promising graduate entrepreneurs. A total of 75 individuals were nominated by their respective universities for the scheme.  Just nine were selected for funding. Two successful candidates from Northern Ireland and two from Denmark were also selected to join the programme.

Steven’s cutting-edge research was based entirely on his own initiative and ingenuity in overcoming significant problems faced by previous researchers in the field of phono arthrometry.  His discoveries, and the technology he is developing, focus on the study of sounds generated naturally by human or animal joints in motion. The value of Steven’s research is in its considerable potential as a new, fast, non-invasive and relatively cheap means of obtaining detailed information about the internal state of a joint, which could then be used for diagnostic purposes.

In clinical tests Steven’s system was able to successfully establish whether an individual’s knee joint was normal or showing signs of abnormality using experimental sound technology. His approach was able to detect a clearly abnormal response from the underside of a patient’s kneecap where the MRI scan of the patient had revealed nothing abnormal. The patient was confirmed as having localised damage in this location through keyhole investigation.

The potential for the technology to positively impact on NHS resources is very clear. The estimated final cost for Steven’s equipment would be just a few thousand pounds. An MRI scanner in comparison costs an average of one million pounds.

Steven partly attributes his success in this little-known field of research to the very different perspective he has in the interpretation of sound as a disabled person. He was registered blind in 2003.

Since his selection as a Global Entrepreneur, Steven (who gained his PhD from Anglia Ruskin in December) and the NCGE’s Director of Flying Start Programmes, Dr Lorna Collins, met with Professor Alan Sibbald, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research, Scholarship & Development). He gave his support to helping Steven take his research further as a Research Fellow of the University. A new PhD studentship is now being advertised to conduct additional research and evaluation of Steven’s experimental instrumentation.

Dr Tina Moules, Director of Research in the Faculty of Health and Social Care is Steven’s principle mentor for his research, with Dr Rob Willis, Director of Research at the Ashcroft International Business School, acting as a co-mentor and providing business support. In addition, both Marcia Baldry and Chris Davies of the Research, Development and Commercial Services Unit are providing additional support on the commercial development side.

Dr Lorna Collins, from the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship, said:

“Anglia Ruskin was one of the first Universities to support this NCGE-Kauffman Foundation international programme. Dr Chris Mitchell, who completed his doctoral research at Anglia Ruskin, was in our first cohort and his business, Audio Analytic, is now trading successfully.”

“I’m particularly impressed by the way Anglia Ruskin has embraced this opportunity to support Steven’s research through his research fellowship and the creation of a PhD studentship which, under his direction, will take the research forward when he returns from the United States.”

“The University’s efforts show just what an important role higher education institutions can play in supporting this nation’s economy and nascent research entrepreneurs like Steven as they create new ventures of international significance.”

Steven is the first to overcome some serious technical challenges in his specialised field of research. His PhD work has taken place within our Bioengineering Research Group under the mentorship of Professor Paul Ingle, co-supervised by Alan Hopkins, a lecturer in Computing, and Dr Pearl Wou, a Consulting Radiologist working with Broomfield and Springfield Hospitals. Professor Kevin Cheah, an Orthopaedic Surgeon at Springfield Hospital acted as an adviser to the PhD project.

Speaking about his work and his selection as a Flying Start Global Entrepreneur, Steven said:

“I owe a great deal to Alan Hopkins and Professor Paul Ingle, without whose personal support and strong defence of my less than conventional ideas and research, I wouldn’t now be in the position I am. In particular, it’s down to Professor Ingle that I started my PhD in the first place in 2005, encouraging me to make the move back into science, allowing me to realise that disability is not the barrier to a scientific career that I originally envisaged.”

“In a world where many campaign for equality, Paul’s support has allowed me to achieve it. Becoming a Global Entrepreneur is a fantastic opportunity, and very much a once-in-a-lifetime thing, it will provide me with the hard business skills I need to take my work forwards at a rapid pace, and realise my dream of seeing this new technology take its rightful place in front-line healthcare. I’m grateful to my new colleagues at the Faculty of Health and Social Care, particularly Professor David Humber, Dr Tina Moules, and the Radiography Team, for giving me the opportunity and support to push my work forward at Anglia Ruskin University.”