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Institute for Life SciencesHealth & Medicine


FortisNet is an interdisciplinary network of clinical, academic and industrial partners that aims to develop research, products and services that will transform musculoskeletal health. With expertise in regenerative medicine, engineering, orthopaedics, prosthetics and orthotics, rehabilitation and assistive technologies, epidemiology and clinical trial design, FortisNet aims to improve lives by delivering better treatments, increasing the speed to market of musculoskeletal focused technology and training the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Image credit: Dr Kai Yang

The population across the globe is living longer, which brings a number of healthcare challenges, especially in musculoskeletal health. The burden of age-related disease and injury is rapidly rising and having a detrimental impact on people’s quality of life and increasing the costs of healthcare provision. For example, the number of hip fractures is expected to rise to 6.3million by 2050 and the number of diabetic lower limb amputations has now risen to 7,000 per year in the UK and over 70,000 in the USA.

The University is working to meet these challenges head with a network of experts in a number of areas including regenerative medicine, orthopaedics, assistive technologies and rehabilitation, to develop new technologies and practices that will have a positive effect on people’s lives.

FortisNet activity covers three broad areas of musculoskeletal health:

Cellular: Always with the patient in mind, our scientists are using regenerative medicine and imaging techniques to regrow bone and cartilage, and gain a better understanding of how to implant materials.  

Devices: Our teams are working to improve the design and function of assistive technologies such as prosthetics and orthotics.  

Application: Using additional integrated practices our teams are working to speed up the process of bringing new technologies into the home and clinical practices in the UK and abroad.

One of the University’s strengths is its translational approach. By bringing engineers and biomedical scientists together to work in partnership with clinicians, industry partners and most importantly, patients, we have seen much improvement in the way new ideas and designs are brought to market.

Since FortisNet was formed in 2016, we developed 48 new projects and 35 business partnerships. But it’s not just research, FortisNet is also concerned with training the next generation of interdisciplinary scientists and engineers. Through investment in interdisciplinary studentships, we are working to dissolve the boundaries between traditional ways of thinking, to create a new generation of life scientists and engineers for the benefit of society.

Image: Prof Jo Adams
Rehabilitation. Image courtesy of Prof Jo Adams.
Image credit: Prof Richard Oreffo, Bone and Joint Group
Fabricating surfaces for skeletal stem cells. Image courtesy of Prof Richard Oreffo, Centre for Human Development, Stem Cells and Regneration
Image credit: Dr Kai Yang
Wearable e-textiles to ease pain in people experiencing osteoarthritis. Image courtesy of Dr Kai Yang.
Image: European Space Agency

European Space Agency Project

Monitoring astronauts' muscle health during and after space flight.

Astronaut muscle health

FortisNet Director

Please see a selection of postgraduate courses related to this subject area below. 

For the full range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the University of Southampton, please visit our courses webpages

MSc Biodevices

This degree programme includes the scientific and engineering principles underpinning a range of micro and nanoscale technologies with options to specialise in areas such as biodevices.

MSc Biomedical Engineering

This masters course will equip you with the specialist knowledge, expertise and skills to integrate biology and medicine with engineering to solve problems related to living systems.

PhD Research Doctorate

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is designed for all healthcare professionals who wish to undertake research at the highest level.

Masters of Research in Stem Cells

The MRes in Stem Cells, Development and Regenerative Medicine offers exciting opportunities to develop the advanced scientific, research and transferable skills you need to become an independent researcher.

Integrated PhD Biomedical Science

Our four year Integrated PhD in Biomedical Science - Stem Cell Science degree as been designed to produce the next generation of leaders in stem cell research.

MSc Health Psychology

Explore how psychological knowledge can improve wellbeing and manage chronic disorders with our MSc in Health Psychology.

MSc in Statistics with Applications in Medicine

The MSc in Statistics with Applications in Medicine provides training in statistical methodology with an emphasis on solving practical problems arising in the context of collecting and analysing medical data.

MSc Health Sciences

Our Masters in Health Sciences - Amputation & Prosthetic Rehabilitation is a flexible programme of higher level study that is suitable for both clinicians and non-clinicians

PhD Programme - Medicine

Choose from Southampton’s full and part-time PhDs in a broad range of specialist areas including biomedicine, research in clinical environments and population-based statistical studies.

DM Programme

Our part-time Doctor of Medicine degree programmes are aimed at students with a clinical background, who hold a medical qualification that is recognised by the UK GMC and are employed in a hospital.

MSc Data Science

This degree builds core areas of expertise: operating high-performance computing clusters & cloud-based infrastructures, devising & applying sophisticated Big Data analytics techniques.

Components: Growing cartilage-like tissue in the lab using human bone stem cells.

Cartilage covers the surface of joints where they meet, acting as a shock absorber and allowing smooth movement of the bones.  It does not heal easily when damaged through injury or wear and tear, which can lead to joint pain and stiffness.  Our researchers are pioneering work to grow and characterise effective engineered cartilage from a patient's own stem cells.

Image credit: Dr Catarina Moura, Dr Rahul Tare, Prof Sumeet Mahajan, Prof Richard Oreffo
Credit: Dr C Moura, Dr R Tare, Prof S Mahajan, Prof R Oreffo

Components: Understanding how to design better implant materials

Many biomaterials that are implanted in the body don't work as well as they should.  Southampton researchers, working with colleagues at the University of Iowa in the USA, have shown how human cells 'feel' how soft or stiff biomedical materials are by working together as teams.  Research suggests that the hardness of the biomaterial will affect how well the cells around an implanted material will work.  This has important implications for the design of future implants, like hip replacements.

Components: Imaging to understand how to improve blood supply to ageing bone

Using X-rays generated by a synchrotron, extremely high levels of details can be revealed in bone structure and its blood supply.  This helps our researchers to understand the differences in blood supply and structure between healthy and osteoporotic bone.  A reduced bone supply is linked to thinning bone and increased fracture risk.  Understanding the reasons underlying this will pave the way for new therapies to prevent bone loss during ageing.

Limbs:  Keeping people physically active for longer, by understanding the complexity of arthritis in the feet through research and education.

People who do not walk well are much more vulnerable to other problems such as weight gain or lessened resilience to chronic conditions such as heart disease and social isolation.  Research at Southampton funded by the National Institute of Health Research involves the investigation of foot pain and pathologies associated with musculoskeletal disease.  From this we have advanced knowledge and understanding of foot pathologies and how they markedly contribute to the morbidity associated with musculoskeletal diseases due to the wide range of articular and extra-articular complaints that can occur.  With investment from FortisNet, in partnership with a local 3D print company, SO3D and business partner, Cynapse Ltd, we are developing and testing an innovative insole, the Spidersole TM.  The innovative lightweight design of the Spidersole TM has the potential to be embedded within mass market footwear to provide comfort for foot joints affected by arthritis.

Robust prosthetics are available for harsh environments, such as agricultural work.
Credit: Dr A Dickinson, Dr P Worsley, Dr M Donovan-Hall, Dr C Metcalf

Limbs: Working in partnership with clinicians and communities to improve access to prosthetics and orthotics in Cambodia.

About 100 million people worldwide need prosthetics (artificial limbs) or orthotic devices (braces and splints), but an estimated 80% to 90% of those do not have access to prosthetic and orthotic services.  The higher incidence of traumatic amputations in lower and middle income countries (caused by accidents, conflict and landmines) means patients are typically younger, with more physically active years ahead  of them, than users in more economically developed countries, for whom most prosthetics technology has been developed.  A large interdisciplinary team led by the University of Southampton is investigating digital measurement tools to assess a user's residual limb anatomy, biomechanics of gait, typical daily prosthetic limb use, and health status.  They are also developing a portable digital case note system delivered through a robust and secure IT network for travelling prosthetists to visit remote communities where people cannot afford to travel for healthcare.  Key to the project is a user-led model of work with our partners in Cambodia as co-researchers, where the prosthetists, physiotherapists, community workers and patients themselves are involved in directing the technical work.  The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the National Institute of Health Research through the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Limbs: Improving the function and control of myoelectric prostheses in children

Myoelectric arms are controlled by electrodes that are usually fixed within the prosthetic interface, called the socket.  These electrodes require close, secure contact against the skin of the child's residual limb to operate efficiently.  Prosthetic sockets for children often last only a few months before they become too tight.  When a new socket is made with a small amount of growing room, the electrode may be too loose to work the hand effectively.  Funded by the NIHR Devices for Dignity MedTech Cooperative (the StarWorks initiative), researchers from the Universities of Salford (lead University) and Southampton are developing a user-friendly, adjustable device to help optimise the contact with a view to providing better levels of prosthesis control for the child.

Image credit: Dr Kai Yang
Image credit: Dr Kai Yang

Individual: Wearable e-textiles to ease pain in people experiencing osteoarthritis

The number of people in the UK with knees affected by osteoarthritis is expected to reach 6.5 million by 2020.  In partnership with patients, industry and clinicians, a Fellowship project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is developing cutting-edge electronic textiles for wearable therapeutics, where dry electrodes printed on everyday clothing fabric can deliver a small electrical current to interfere with the pain signals and stimulate the release of the body's natural endorphins, easing the pain.

Image: European Space Agency, Prof Blottner, Prof Stokes, Dr Warner
Image: European Space Agency, Prof Blottner, Prof Stokes, Dr Warner

Individual: Monitoring astronauts' muscle health during and after space flight

The European Space Agency Myotones Project (with funding from the UK Space Agency) aims to document the changes that occur in astronauts' muscles during their six-month stay on the International Space Station.  The loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength is a well-known side-effect of space travel, despite intensive daily exercise, but the ability to test muscles during an actual mission had until now been limited by lack of appropriate equipment.  The Myotones Project involves novel use of compact technology that enables direct non-invasive testing of muscles in a confined and weightless (termed microgravity) environment.  The technologies include a hand-held device to measure muscle tone (MyotonPRO) and an ultrasound scanner to measure muscle and fat thickness.  The lessons learnt will help develop effective exercise programmes for people on Earth living with musculoskeletal and neurological disorders, as well as help reduce the effects of ageing.

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