Interactive Timeline of Key Events

Interactive Timeline of Key Events

1963 1965 1967 1969 1974 1978 1984 1986 1988 1988a 1989 1993 1995 1997 1998 1999 2002 2002a 2003 2006 2008 2013


4th May 1963 – Powered Prosthetics Unit opens

In 1963 funding was provided by the Scottish Home & Health Department to set up a small workshop in a basement in George Square, in close proximity to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh. The Powered Prosthetics Unit, as it was originally known, was set up following a visit to Professor Ernst Marquardt in Heidelberg, Germany, with Dr (later Professor) David Simpson as its first director. It was charged with designing and providing upper limb prostheses for the children born with limb abnormalities as a result of the drug Thalidomide. Initially, referrals were received from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Eire. This was a particularly difficult beginning due to the prevailing emotive atmosphere of politics and intense media interest. Within the first year, the unit employed four technicians and a deputy director, but due to a growing workload and the need for ongoing research and development it was soon necessary to employ more staff.

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1965 – Move to PMR Orthopaedic Hospital

In 1965, the unit moved 3.5 miles south to larger premises on the Princess Margaret Rose (PMR) Orthopaedic Hospital site. From a clinical perspective this was the ideal location as it was the principal regional hospital for the treatment of children with ‘disabling musculoskeletal disorders’. To support the work, a Self Care Unit was set up in 1966 to provide residential accommodation (consisting of three bedrooms, a day room, a sitting room and a kitchen) for ‘children with severe limb deficiencies and their mothers’

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1967 – Renamed Orthopaedic Bio-Engineering Unit

In 1967, the unit was renamed the Orthopaedic Bio-Engineering Unit and the Medical Research Council and the Scottish Home & Health Department agreed to provide and equip a new building.

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1969 – New purpose-build Bio-Engineering Centre opens

In 1969 the new purpose-build Bio-Engineering Centre (the hyphen was mysteriously dropped around 1986) was opened. The 325 m2 building contained a mechanical workshop, a plastics laboratory and electronics laboratory as well as clinic rooms and office and storage space. Around this time the focus of the service’s work began to expand to include aids for daily living (such as an IBM electronic typewriter adapted to operate with switch activated by shoulder shrug in 1970) and special hospital beds and other large equipment.

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1974 – Physical Aids for the Disabled section formed

The 1974 a new internal section was set up – the Medical Research Council Unit for Physical Aids for the Disabled – to protect the powered prosthetic limb programme from being overwhelmed by other work and also to address the obvious and growing local demand for clinical-based design and custom manufacture.

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1978 – New Director Hamish Law

In 1978 a new director, Dr Hamish Law, was appointed. The work of the centre continued and funding was obtained for a number of projects, notably as one of the centres for the UK trial of the Swedish System Teknik hand prosthesis for young children.

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1984 – New Director Thomas Dick

In June 1984, Thomas Dick was appointed as the third director. Research areas during this period included functional electrical stimulation, back topography, as well as a clinical trial of incontinence garments.

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1986 – First gait analysis equipment installed

The first gait analysis system (consisting of 3 infra-red cameras, a force platform and an 8-channel EMG) was installed in 1986 for research and teaching purposes in the hospital’s physiotherapy gym.

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1988 – RESLA formed

An umbrella organisation, called Rehabilitation Engineering Service Lothian Area (RESLA), including Bioengineering, Prosthetics and Mobility was formed in 1988. Thomas Dick was appointed its first director.

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1988 – New Director Barry Meadows

Following the formation of RESLA, Dr Barry Meadows was appointed Director of Bioengineering in 1988.

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1989 – Clinic and office extension opened

In 1989 new office and clinic facilities and outpatients department for RESLA were opened in an extension on the end of the listed, modernist Clinical Research Unit. Excellent though the facilities were, they had one major draw back; the new build was at the entrance of PMR Orthopaedic Hospital, but the bioengineering workshop remained in the original centre at the top of a steep hill. Any alterations to equipment or a requirement for items from the store during a clinic appointment necessitated a round trip of nearly ½ mile, adding at least 10 minutes to length of the appointment.

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1993 – New Director David Gow

In 1993, David Gow was appointed the Director of RES (the Lothian Area remit being dropped as a consequence of the formation of NHS Trusts) and Ian Loudon was appointed the Head of Bioengineering Services.

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1995 – Anderson Gait Laboratory opened

The Anderson Gait Laboratory was formally opened by the Scottish rugby international Gavin Hastings on 8th November 1995. In recognition of their support for the laboratory and their generous funding of research, the laboratory was named in honour of the James and Grace Anderson Trust. It was housed in the main building at the PMR Orthopaedic Hospital.

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1997 – David Simpson Library opened

On 27th October 1997, the new David Simpson Library was formally opened with a series of invited talks headlined with a presentation from Professor Dudley Childress on ‘What the Past Tells About the Future of Limb Prosthetics Development’ in recognition of Professor Simpson’s seminal work on the control of upper limb prostheses.

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1998 – World’s 1st electrically powered shoulder fitted

On 26th August 1998, after 11 years of research and development (with funding from the Scottish Chief Scientist’s Office) the first complete powered electrical arm prosthesis, know as the Edinburgh Modular Arm System (EMAS), was fitted by the service. The fitting was witnessed by 7 television crews and over 30 journalists and photographers from all over the world (BBC report).

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1999 – Enabling Technology for Children launched

In 1999, a dedicated bioengineer-led children’s wheelchair and seating service, called Enabling Technology for Children (ETC), was set up under the leadership of Ian Loudon. A paediatric physiotherapist was employed to work with the lead bioengineer and an experienced senior technician. The service is now therapy-led with bioengineer and technician support.

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2002 – Move to Eastern General Hospital

With the opening of the New Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, the PMR Orthopaedic Hospital closed to inpatients in January 2002. Bioengineering (along with Prosthetics), however, remained on an increasingly desolate site until May that year.

In May 2002, the service moved to temporary accommodation at the Eastern General Hospital, Edinburgh, where it remained for several years. This was a consequence of the opening of the New Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, and the closure of the PMR Orthopaedic Hospital to inpatients in January 2002.

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2002 – TouchEMAS spin-out company formed

In 2002, TouchEMAS Ltd was the first spin out company to be launched via Scottish Health Innovations from the NHS in Scotland.

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2003 – TouchBionics formed

A new company, incorporating TouchEMAS, called TouchBionics was formed in 2003. It was awarded most promising new Life Sciences Company in Scotland in 2005. It is now based in Livingston and continues to develop and launch new products and has fitted hundreds of upper limb prostheses across the globe.

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2006 – New purpose-build SMART Centre opened

In December 2006, the Bioengineering and Prosthetics Services moved to their current location in the purpose-built Southeast Mobility & Rehabilitation Technology (SMART) Centre at the Astley Ainslie Hospital. The following January they were joined by the Wheelchair Service, Disabled Living Centre and Driving Assessment Service. The 4000 m2 building was officially opened on 26 February 2007 by the Deputy Health Minister Lewis Macdonald.

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2008 – Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award for i-LIMB hand

In 2008, David Gow and TouchBionics were awarded the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award for the development of the i-LIMB hand.

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2013 – 50th Anniversary

In 2013, Bioengineering in Edinburgh celebrates 50 years of pioneering enablement technology. These web pages have been created to mark the occasion.

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Return to Bioengineering 1963-2013 – Home Page

Written & compiled by Dr Michael J Dolan, SMART Centre, NHS Lothian, Edinburgh.

First published 15th March 2013. Last updated 22nd March 2013. Version 1.1.

NHS Lothian's Southeast Scotland Mobility & Assistive Technology Centre