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RCA and Imperial Launch HELIX Revolutionary Healthcare Design Research Centre

The Royal College of Art (RCA) and the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) at Imperial College London have together launched Europe’s first dedicated centre for healthcare design and innovation.

At a reception at the House of Lords last night, the two prestigious institutions unveiled the HELIX Centre for Design in Healthcare, which aims to transform healthcare through design and make the UK a global business hub for such innovation.

The centre, embedded in a clinical environment, will focus on ‘frugal’ innovation, or high impact, low cost design. HELIX will run an extensive programme of training, workshops and seminars in design thinking and entrepreneurship for healthcare staff, encouraging a culture of innovation in the NHS.

The Centre will bring together clinicians, academics, technologists and venture capitalist expertise with NHS staff to develop products, services and systems with global relevance. Recognising that some of the promising technologies in healthcare are developing outside the UK, HELIX will work collaboratively with international academic and commercial partners including Stanford University, Singapore University of Technology and Design, IDEO, and TATA in India to develop ideas and create commercial opportunities for the best designs.

‘Frugal’ technology, specifically developed to meet the needs of the world’s poorest people, will be at the heart of the initiative. The Centre will use its research strengths and diverse networks to explore how design in health services can enhance patient care, meeting the needs of an ageing population, improving clinical outcomes, and preventing or mitigating against disease.

Professor Lord Ara Darzi, Co-Director of HELIX and Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College said: ‘Innovation in healthcare can come at a high price. In the developed world it is often characterised by costly and high tech initiatives, where ideas can take a decade to deliver from concept into a clinician’s hands. HELIX will use design to solve everyday problems in healthcare, focusing on frugal solutions which can be adopted more quickly by health systems.’

HELIX Co-Director and Rector of the Royal College of Art, Dr Paul Thompson added: ‘Transforming and improving healthcare will lead to cost-effective delivery of services and will help cement the UK’s reputation as a global research hub for healthcare innovation. At the same time, what we are also doing is laying the building blocks to engage a whole new generation of designers and design thinkers to think about healthcare in new and different ways.’

The RCA and Imperial College London have had a strong history of collaboration. A recent collaborative healthcare project – the London ambulance redesign – won the UK Design Museum’s transport Design of the Year in 2012. The HELIX collaboration doesn’t stop at design innovation. It will also educate the next generation of design focused leaders through the development of a Master’s in Biodesign, Doctoral research programmes, and work with established international partners to support wider dissemination and commercialisation of products.

HELIX will be led by Professor Lord Darzi and Dr Paul Thompson. The Operations Director is Stephanie Somerville and Professor Jeremy Myerson (RCA) and Dominic King (RCA) are the respective design and clinical leads. HELIX will initially have five research associates, all with backgrounds in design and design engineering: Senior Design Associates Maja Kecmann, Matthew Harrison and Jonathan West, and Design Associates Mark Fisher and Gianpaolo Fusari. The research associates will work alongside the clinical research team.