Epidurals PhD researcher wins coveted EPSRC award

BU’s Dr Neil Vaughan has won the EPSRC’s ICT Pioneers ‘Transforming Society’ award. The accolade, which recognises the most exceptional UK PhD students, was awarded to Neil at a ceremony in Westminster last week for his innovative epidural simulator project.

Dr Vaughan developed the medical device alongside anaesthetists at Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The simulator uses software to replicate the epidural process, thereby assisting in training for this delicate procedure that is performed over 1000 times each day in the UK.

The clinical project was proposed by the senior consultant anaesthetist at Poole Hospital, Professor Michael Wee, who also co-supervisor the PhD along with BU’s Associate Professor Dr Venky Dubey.

Dr Dubey said: “This is an exceptional achievement for BU and the collaborating partner Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Neil was up against stiff competition from top universities, including the University of Oxford, University College London and the University of Bath.”

Dr Vaughan’s work was judged by a panel of technical experts from academia and industry. He triumphed through a rigorous selection process over a six month period, which included a written proposal, video and poster presentation. This culminated in a high-profile research showcase, where finalists pitched their project to representatives from the EPSRC, Hewlett Packard, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), BT and an audience of hundreds.

The project

The winning device uses software to replicate the epidural procedure, incorporating ultrasound with MRI images to assist training epiduralists in determining the position of the epidural needle. This has not been done in previous or current epidural simulators.

Unlike existing epidural training technology, this prototype simulator incorporates patient weight, height and BMI. This is more realistic and, coupled with a physical manikin, gives a realistic model for training. An accompanying training package allows epiduralists to monitor their improvement.

Future impact

This prototype simulator allows epiduralists to practise on something that closely resembles the real person. If widely adopted this could reduce the learning curve, making epidurals more effective and potentially reducing the risk to patients. This may be translated into savings to the NHS in the form of a reduction in compensation claims.

The team are currently in discussions with industry partners to develop the simulator further. They are working with NHS Innovations South West, who develop and take forward new innovative ideas – both products and services – to enhance healthcare delivery.

The research team’s ultimate aim is to create a high fidelity epidural simulator with incorporated sound and vision true to the labour environment. This will increase the realistic experience of training, similar to that of a flight simulator.

Related links

Working with our local MP

NHS Innovations South West

Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

About Professor Michael Wee – Senior Consultant Anaesthetist at Poole Hospital

About Dr Neil Vaughan – Researcher at Bournemouth University

About Dr Venky Dubey – Researcher at Bournemouth University

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Centre for Digital Entertainment has funding renewed


The Centre for Digital Entertainment, jointly run by Bournemouth University and the University of Bath, has received funding for the next eight years.

The multi-million pound grant, from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), was announced today by the Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts.

It will fund another 50 doctoral students at the Centre for Digital Entertainment, which creates innovative funded research and development projects for the games, animation, VFX, simulation and cultural industries.

It embeds doctoral researchers into companies where they work on research and development projects, studying for an Engineering Doctorate while contributing positively to the industry in which they are working.

Professor Jian Jun Zhang, co-founder of The Centre for Digital Entertainment and Professor of Computer Graphics at BU, said: “I am thrilled to learn that our proposal to extend our Centre for Digital Entertainment has been funded by the EPSRC.

“Working with the University of Bath, this multimillion pound grant will allow us to produce another 50 doctoral students for the UK’s creative industry which urgently needs high-skilled people for this fast growing sector.

“We have already taken 50 students and have established strong relationships with more than 30 companies, including many world leading players, such as Sony, Electronic Arts and Double Negative.”

Students at the Centre for Digital Entertainment spend around 75 per cent of their time working in industry, where they are faced by the real problems experienced by professionals in the sector and contribute to the development of solutions.

“We forge a special three-way relationship by bringing together two world-class academic teams, a large number of world-class companies and top-quality doctoral students,” said Professor Zhang.

“Our mission is to develop next generation of technical leaders for the computer animation, games and visual effects industry.”

The funding from the EPSRC is part of £350 million that will be spent on postgraduate learning at Centres for Doctoral Training, focusing on key areas of engineering and the physical sciences that are vital to economic growth.

Science Minister David Willetts said: “I am particularly pleased to see strong partnerships between universities, industry and business among the new centres announced today.

“This type of collaboration is a key element of our industrial strategy and will continue to keep us at the forefront of the global science race.”

Find out more about the Centre for Digital Entertainment