Medical Device PhD Students Make Advancements with Support of ITL

Two PhD students, who secured sponsorship from ITL, have revealed their progress on developing new breakthrough medical devices. Tudor Besleaga is currently conducting a PhD project to develop a wearable medical device that quantifies the risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Chia-Hung Li is leading a PhD project to develop a clinical device to monitor nasal blockage.

Back in January 2015, ITL announced it would be supporting and funding the two Medical Device PhD students from UCL’s Institute of Healthcare Engineering (previously the IBME). Since that time, the two students have carried out extensive research and subsequently identified key findings and guiding principles that will shape their innovations.

The students are both enrolled on a Doctoral Training Programme in Medical Device Innovation and have been receiving support from ITL’s New Product Development Manager Steve Hope and R&D Manager Ian McCutcheon who have been the industrial supervisors for both projects.

Over the next three years, under their guidance, Tudor and Chia-Hung will continue work on all of the academic research and commercial aspects of the device including feasibility studies, product development and market research.

Tudor’s PhD Project

Mechanical engineering graduate Tudor has been developing an innovative solution to the management of cardiovascular diseases; which is an increasing health problem and significant cost driver. Through good m-health data, Tudor has identified that the assessment of these diseases could be improved, and outcomes towards health goals achieved faster.

Tudor’s PhD project is assisted by consultant cardiologist Dr Pier Lambiase and cardiovascular research associate Michele Orini as well as two UCL professors specialising in biomedical electronics and optics. Tudor and his team have set out to develop a wearable medical device that is robust, acceptable to the user and trusted by doctors.

After holding consultations with cardiologists and GPs, Tudor identified widespread concern over the unreliability of recording patient generated data. Furthermore, he identified that the aim of recording needed to be clarified - as raw data becomes impractical to use for long term monitoring conditions.

Tudor’s research highlighted that it would be advantageous if heart rate monitors would automatically detect and quantify irregular heart activity; such as arrhythmia episodes or ectopic beats. Reflecting on the progress his team have made, Tudor said:

“We have developed a set of algorithms that we are looking forward to testing in a clinical setting. But first, we must ensure that the data is recorded is at the highest standards, and our bespoke sensing technology would help us do that.
“The ever-increasing adoption of ‘wellness’ devices based on optical sensing techniques has determined us to further improve the existing technology while maintaining versatility in design, and a minimal level of intrusiveness for the user.”

He added:

“The next stage in development will be using our bespoke technology to target the detection of cardiac biomarkers in people of imminent risk.”

By 2018, when he finishes his PhD project Tudor intends to have a usable product. Working with ITL will have given him valuable insight into the production process and ‘real life’ commercial requirements such as regulatory approvals.

Chia-Hung’s PhD Project

The second of the two PhD projects is a nasal blockage analyser, devised by Chia-Hung Li. His project team is headed up by Dr Terence Leung, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Optics at UCL’s Department of Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering and Mr. Peter Andrews, Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon and Consultant Rhinologist from the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital and the UCL Ear Institute. Chia-Hung has been working with clinicians and engineers to develop the a clinical device to monitor nasal blockage. The growing importance of evidence based medicine has led to the increasing need to use objective methods to assess nasal blockage which can indicate a range of pathologies from the common cold to nasal valve collapse and malignancy.

Although there are a number of well-established objective methods at the disposal of rhinologists, Chia-Hung’s research revealed that most clinicians did not routinely use these methods. To understand why and to find out the requirements of such a device from the clinical community, he carried out a clinical survey at the 15th British Academic Conference on Otolaryngology. The results from this survey have provided a set of guiding principles for Chia-Hung to develop a new nasal blockage monitoring device which would meet the real needs of clinicians and patients.

His project team have recently started a clinical study (adopted by The NIHR Clinical Research Network Portfolio) to test a prototype device at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital.

Research results cited accuracy and ease of operation as among the most important characteristics for an objective method. Better correlation with subjective measures reported by the patients and the ability to assess both nostrils separately but also simultaneously, would most improve upon the existing methods.

What’s next for the innovators?

Both students have made substantial headway with their PhD projects and ITL’s involvement has injected a commercial focus into their programme. Their support will lead to both students developing working prototypes of their innovations, hopefully taking them from a research idea all the way to the beginnings of a marketable product.

Steve Hope said:

“We are really impressed by the progress both students have made at this stage. They are both showing real commitment. Supporting their work is a privilege and I look forward to the breakthroughs and challenges we’ll encounter together over the next three years.”

ITL will share further updates of the advancements made by both PhD students throughout the duration of the programme.

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