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Case study: How an NIHR Clinician Scientist industry collaboration is benefiting research and patients

The NIHR supports researchers to establish partnerships with the life sciences industry and small and medium-sized enterprises to keep pushing the boundaries of health and care research and see patients and the public quickly benefiting from new interventions. Read more about pass our industry collaboration opportunities.

Technology leads to improved patient outcomes

A fortuitous meeting led Professor Daniel Perry to collaborate with a 3D technology company which led to improved patient outcomes and changed his outlook on working with industry.

Whilst working as a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool in 2015, Daniel came into contact with medical printing company 3D LifePrints who were working on a project with a colleague involving developing 3D prints for use in clinical practice.

At the time, Daniel was an NIHR Clinician Scientist (now called NIHR Advanced Fellowship), exploring how the safety and effectiveness of orthopaedic care for children could be maximised through better evidence, which allowed him time to work with the company to explore how it could help patients.

Over time they worked together to develop the technology to produce better patient-specific anatomical models to allow surgeons to simulate the surgery on them which have also been helpful for training junior surgeons.

Collaborations benefits researchers and industry

Daniel has used the technology over 30 times in his clinical practice and 3D Life Prints have now produced hundreds of models at Alder Hey Hospital and hospitals elsewhere across the world.

The collaboration has changed the way Daniel teaches, plans and undertakes surgical interventions in orthopaedics. Other benefits include preventing unnecessary operations, reducing the strain on families and knowing in advance what to expect.

Daniel said: “A number of things came together fortuitously which led to working with 3D Life Prints that has enabled us to transform complex cases. This was the first-time I had worked with industry and it opened my eyes to how it works and can help.

“The collaboration has not only helped reduce risk by enabling us to see the problem in 3D before surgery, but also has enabled us to create guides to use during surgery which help us to avoid any mistakes. 3D printing of difficult anatomy takes a lot of the surprise and anxiety out of complex surgery, which enables the surgeon to better understand the anatomy, rehearse the procedures and be prepared what equipment may be necessary to maximise the success.

“For the NHS, this increases the efficiency of the procedure and, for individuals, maximises the safety of complex surgery.”

3D Life Prints CEO Henry Pinchbeck explained how it wouldn’t have been possible for his engineering team to gain the necessary experience to create such high fidelity anatomical models from the patients’ scans without the expertise of Daniel and his team.

Henry explained: “We needed to work with surgeons who had the right clinical expertise and just as importantly enough time and inclination to develop the product until it worked.

“One moment I particularly remember is when Daniel’s spinal colleague had to place a screw without hitting the patient’s nerves of vasculature which can be very difficult, especially in children. We produced a 3D model that he took to the operating theatre which helped guide where the screw would be inserted. I knew then that what we had helped create was making a difference to patients.”

Future industry collaboration key to Research Professorship

Daniel was awarded the NIHR Research Professorship in 2021 which funds and supports research leaders of the future. His research topic, overcoming unplanned variation in children’s health (OUCH) aims to maximise the safety and effectiveness of orthopaedic care for children through better evidence.

Through his Professorship, Daniel will develop studies to resolve these uncertainties with a particular focus on building a mechanism within existing national care pathways that enables randomised studies to be performed as part of routine care.

“My Research Professorship will create a platform for testing interventions for hip dysplasia in babies in routine care. Ideally, this will enable us to test new screening interventions for this condition on a large-scale.

“Working with industry at this stage to develop the technology to take this forward is key to what I’m doing.”

NIHR industry collaboration opportunities

Researchers can use their NIHR career development award to establish new partnerships with the life sciences industry and small and medium-sized enterprises.

If you’re interested in working with a commercial partner, as part of your current NIHR Fellowship/research training award, or an application for funding from NIHR, find out more about our industry collaboration opportunities.