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Aston University launches SPARK The Midlands to support health tech innovation

Aston University, a member of BHP, has launched SPARK The Midlands, a network which aims to bridge the gap between medical research discoveries of novel therapeutics, medical devices and diagnostics, and real-world clinical use.

SPARK The Midlands is the first UK branch of Stanford University’s prestigious global SPARK programme. It comes as a result of Aston University’s active involvement in the delivery of the West Midlands Health Tech Innovation Accelerator (WMHTIA) – a government-funded project aimed at helping companies drive their innovations towards market success.

The SPARK scheme helps to provide mentorship and forge networks between researchers, those with technical and specialist knowledge and potential sources of funding. SPARK members have access to workshops led by industry experts, covering topics such as medical device regulations, establishing good clinical trials, and creating an enticing target product profile to engage future funders.

While SPARK The Midlands will be based at Aston University, it will support multiple projects across the West Midlands from other BHP members including the University of Birmingham (UoB), Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (BWC), as well as other regional institutions including Warwick University. It is also supporting a number of regional companies.

12 projects have been funded as part of cohort one, including a cross-BHP initiative involving Aston, UoB and BWC. Led by Dr Jan Novak from Aston’s School of Psychology,  the project will develop a device to categorise paediatric brain tumours using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Based on 24 years of data, the device will be able to help determine what type of brain tumour a patient has and what surgical approach to take.

Aston University researchers are involved in a further four projects within cohort one of SPARK The Midlands.

Luke Southan, SPARK UK director, said: “It is a privilege to be launching the first UK SPARK cohort here in the West Midlands. We have a real opportunity here to support not only new, transformative, standards of care for areas of genuine unmet clinical need, but also to support the growth of a major innovation cluster for the region.”

Pasi Sorvisto, founder and director of SPARK Finland and director of SPARK Europe, said: “We are truly excited to have a SPARK programme in the UK. SPARK The Midlands is a perfect example of what coming together enables in the region.

“The beauty of our European network is that we have come together in supporting scientists, students and healthcare professionals in developing great new solutions and businesses. We share experiences of what works and what doesn’t, we provide joint webinars and mentoring, we have joint events, and we support each other in building new solutions and businesses to global markets. “Together” is maybe the most common word in discussions at European SPARK network. Since we have a global network of SPARK programmes associated with top-tier institutions, each and every project in Europe has opportunities to build high value connections through our global network.”

SPARK The Midlands will host its first educational workshop on Tuesday 13 February at 15:00 GMT. It will be a hybrid event, hosted at Aston University’s John Cadbury House, and online. It is open to anyone interested in developing a therapeutic, medical device or diagnostic for public use, including academics, researchers, scientists, healthcare professionals, and postgraduate students. For more information and tickets visit the Eventbrite page.

For more information about SPARK The Midlands, visit