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Prof Alan Cottenden
Prof Alan Cottenden profile picture
  • Emeritus Professor
  • Dept of Med Phys & Biomedical Eng
  • Faculty of Engineering Science

I am currently Professor of Incontinence Technology at UCL. I read Natural Sciences at Christ’s College Cambridge - specialising in Materials Science – before taking up an EPSRC PhD studentship between Cambridge and the National Physical Laboratory to work on the mechanical properties of machine tool materials. I then switched my focus to Medicine and moved to Sussex University to conduct a project for EPSRC to determine research funding priorities in Biomedical Engineering and identify an area for my own future work. I decided to focus on technology for managing intractable incontinence and initially worked at Sussex before moving to UCL in 1984 to work with Prof James Malone-Lee (geriatrician) and Prof Mandy Fader (nurse), collaborations which continue to the present.

I have over 250 scientific and clinical publications, refereed conference contributions and patents and have given over 100 invited lectures. I am a Trustee of the UK Bladder & Bowel Foundation, a member of the Advisory Board of the US Simon Foundation, and the British Standards Institute and International Standards Organisation committees on incontinence technology, and have coauthored numerous international standards, one of which forms the basis for national purchasing of incontinence pads in the UK. I chair the organising committees for the world’s only two conferences on incontinence technology; the Incontinence: the Engineering Challenge series run in London by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Innovating for Continence series run by the Simon Foundation in Chicago. I have contributed to all five WHO International Consultations on Incontinence, leading on the incontinence technology chapter, and co-directing the creation of a website (www.continenceproductadvisor.org) in 2013 to make its contents available to people with incontinence and their caregivers.

Research Summary

For the last 30 years my research has focused on technology for managing intractable incontinence. A key characteristic of the research group is that, through a combination of our own expertise and that of numerous collaborators in the academic, clinical and industry worlds, we have been able to tackle a broad diversity of multi-disciplinary projects.

We have run clinical trials on most categories of incontinence products, making the data available to people with incontinence, their caregivers and others seeking to make informed product selections. The four-yearly (or so) International Consultations on Incontinence have provided an excellent vehicle for us to trawl the literature and provide evidence-based guidance on product selection for clinicians and, from 2013, making the information available and accessible to the general public via a website (www.continenceproductadvisor.org).

Our evaluation work is also the life-blood of our technical programme, yielding insights into problems that need addressing and ideas for better products. We hold around 20 patents and our most successful product to date is Kylie Pants – washable pants for lightly incontinent men, women and children – which are now available in about 15 countries. Another major strand of our work is studying the complex mix of materials – nonwovens, knitted and woven fabrics, felts, fluff pulp webs, superabsorbent polymers - used in absorbent pads. We have identified a number of simple laboratory tests that yield clinically important data on product performance and some of these have been captured in International Standards. One of them forms the basis for UK NHS national purchasing of incontinence pads. Another major interest is in understanding – through experimental and mathematical modeling work – the skin damage which incontinence pads can cause to their wearers.

Teaching Summary

I am currently the Undergraduate Tutor and Exam Board Chair for Medical Physics and am in process of handing over my role as Admissions Tutor to my colleague, Dr Karin Shmueli. I also chair the Departmental Teaching Committee and the Departmental Teaching Strategy Group.

Since the Department of Medical Physics & Bioengineering took over responsibility for undergraduate Medical Physics programmes in 2008, we have grown them to a regular strong intake of 20-25 students per year and we are in the process of reviewing and building the programmes to enhance the learning experience for our students. In 2011-12 we introduced three new teaching modules to replace old ones that were in need of refreshment: An Introduction to Medical Imaging (MPHY1001) for our first years, and Physics of the Human Body (MPHY2001) and An Introduction to Biophysics (MPHY2002) for our second years. We are building the diversity of optional modules available to our year 3 and year 4 students, a process that should be facilitated by UCL’s introduction of an Integrated Engineering programme for undergraduates, which will include a Biomedical Engineering strand for which we will be responsible.

I currently contribute lectures on elementary biomechanics and biomaterials to a second year undergraduate module (MPH2001), urology lectures to our Applications of Biomedical Engineering module (MPHYGB22) for MSc and year 3/4 undergraduates, and organise a module on Aspects of Bioengineering (MPHYGB21), also for our MSc and year 3/4 undergraduates.

In my DTSG role, I am keen to encourage colleagues to experiment with novel approaches to teaching and learning and am particularly keen to promote the teaching of transferrable skills. 

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