Continence and Skin Technology Group
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Career and research interests
Alan Cottenden is Professor of Incontinence Technology in the Department of Medical Physics and Bioengineering, UCL. He read Natural Sciences at Christ’s College Cambridge - specialising in Materials Science in his final year – before taking up an EPSRC CASE PhD studentship between Cambridge and the National Physical Laboratory to work on the mechanical properties of machine tool materials.
He then decided to switch his 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 his own future work. During the project, data became available from the first ever substantial epidemiological study on urinary incontinence which revealed that it affected some 3.5m UK adults. His attention was also drawn to the subject by the crudeness of the incontinence products then available; great encouragement from two leading urologists; and the fact that the incontinence technology section of the directory of current UK research he compiled had not a single entry. Initially, he worked at Sussex but in 1984 moved to UCL to work with Prof James Malone-Lee (geriatrician) and Dr Mandy Fader (nurse), collaborations which continue to the present day. Together they have conducted a sustained multi-disciplinary research programme, aimed at improving the quality of life of people with intractable incontinence.
In this context, Professor Cottenden has engaged in a broad diversity of projects encompassing the whole gamut of fundamental and applied physical and life sciences research through to translational research work and product design and development. For example, clinical evaluation work on washable absorbent products for lightly incontinent adults yielded insights into their leakage mechanisms which led firstly to laboratory studies and then the development of mathematical models to describe the interaction of urine with absorbent materials. This formed the foundation for current work to develop a product with improved performance, for which the first patent is in preparation. Similarly, clinical studies on the impact on skin health of wearing incontinence pads led to the development of robust methodologies for measuring associated friction and skin wetness. Mathematical models are now being developed and are expected to provide insights into how to make pads kinder to skin.
Professor Cottenden has over 250 scientific and clinical publications, refereed conference contributions and patents and has given over 100 invited lectures. He is a Trustee of the UK Bladder & Bowel Foundation, a member of the Advisory Board of the US Simon Foundation and has facilitated and chaired numerous academic, clinical, commercial and charity events in the UK and overseas. He has been a member of the British Standards Institute and International Standards Organisation committees on incontinence technology for some 25y and has coauthored numerous international standards, one of which forms the basis for national purchasing of incontinence pads in the UK and some overseas countries.
Professor Cottenden is chair of the organising committees for the world’s only two conferences on incontinence technology; the biennial Incontinence: the Engineering Challenge series run in London by the Engineering in Medicine & Health Division of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Innovating for Continence series, also biennial, run by the Simon Foundation in Chicago. He contributed to all four WHO International Consultations on Incontinence, leading the team which introduced a chapter specifically on incontinence technology in the 2004 and 2008 volumes.
His conviction is that when complete cure for incontinence is not achievable, delivering the best quality of life possible through management using effective technology is a goal just as worthy of strenuous effort.