Jun 09 2016 Posted: 10:32 IST

A researcher at the College of Engineering and Informatics at NUI Galway has received a Seed Award in Science of €100,000 from the SFI/HRB/Wellcome Trust Biomedical Partnership. The funding was provided following a pilot study on a novel treatment to improve the delivery of therapy to the heart for patients with post-heart attack scarring or tissue damage.

Treatment for heart attack has advanced greatly in the past few years. However, even if the vessels of the heart are reperfused, there can be residual scarring that can lead to heart failure in later life. This removes the need to give systemic drugs that can have toxic side effects. The concept from the research is an implantable device that is placed on the heart and acts as a reservoir to allow direct, selective delivery of therapy along with multiple refills to the heart from a port just under the skin.

The goal of this project is to develop a computer-based model using mathematical techniques (finite element techniques), which will be able to predict how the therapy will be dispersed from the implantable device to the heart tissue. The researchers will create a simplified model based on experimental testing, and then a more complex model that will incorporate the microstructure of the heart and the reservoir. These models will predict how the drug will diffuse into the heart tissue, and allow optimisation of device design.

This device will also reveal some more fundamental insights into the rate of drug delivery to the tissue, in order to help to design the best treatment strategy. The key goals of the work will be to obtain the material properties of all the device components so they can be used as input for the model, to create and run the computer-based models so that the drug diffusion profile can be elucidated, and the drug dosing regimen can be optimised, and finally to compare the results of the simulation to existing results of when the device was implanted in animal models.

The research was carried out by Dr Ellen Roche, MIT Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Discipline of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering and Informatics at NUI Galway. Commenting on the study, Ms Roche said: “I am delighted and honoured to receive this grant from the SFI/HRB/Wellcome Trust Biomedical Partnership. It will enable me to complete my research on computer simulation of a novel therapy delivery system for heart failure patients.”

Peter McHugh, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at NUI Galway, said: “This is a wonderful achievement. As a graduate of Biomedical Engineering at NUI Galway, Ellen is a fantastic ambassador for our research and teaching programmes here, and through this award she forges a very strong link between NUI Galway and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), that will be of tremendous benefit to the University and to Ellen herself into the future.”

Seed Awards provide responsive, flexible funding from the SFI (Science Foundation Ireland and HRB (Health Research Board) Wellcome Trust Biomedical Partnership, enabling researchers to develop a novel idea. The Seed Award scheme provides one-off grants of up to £100,000 for up to two years, to help researchers develop original and innovative ideas.

Their exploratory nature gives scope for the use of innovative methodologies, and a range of possible activities; from pilot and scoping studies, to preliminary data gathering and proof-of-principle studies. They can provide funding for the direct costs of carrying out the research, including materials, equipment, animals, research assistance, fieldwork and data collection and travel. They fund interdisciplinary research and researchers at the start of their independent careers who wish to develop innovative ideas outside of their discipline or area of expertise.

ENDS

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