£30k moneypot to pay for development of innovative new renal and assistive technology devices

Published: 16-Dec-2011

Innovation fund is split between two new technologies

A £30,000 moneypot has been announced to fund the development of a battery-powered ultrasound scanner for renal procedures and an electromyography (EMG) stand-alone switch for use by disabled people.

The cash is part of the Devices for Dignity (D4D) initiative, which was announced in August and challenged teams of designers and clinical specialists to develop technological solutions to support people with long-term conditions, with a particular focus on enabling them to maintain their independence.

The programme is one of two Healthcare Technology Co-operatives (HTCs) set up as a result of a Health Industry Task Force report published in 2005, which advised the Government of the need to provide a more structured environment for innovation. It concentrates specifically on three key areas historically under resourced and under developed - assistive technologies, urinary continence management and renal solutions.

In the latest round of funding, two teams will share £30,000, helping to further improve their innovations and get them ready for market.

The first product, in the assistive technology category, was put forward by consultant clinical scientist, Gareth Adkins, who works as head of rehabilitation engineering at Morriston Hospital in Swansea. Together with his team he is developing an EMG switch, which will enable severely-disabled people to independently control their environment or access communication with tiny muscle actions; sometimes their only reliable movement. Usually these switches require powerful computers, but this project intends to create a switch that can work independently of other equipment.

Adkins said: “We are delighted with this money. The unique group we have brought together includes medical electronics specialists, rehabilitation engineers and designers from the National Centre for Product Design and Development Research’s applications group at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

“The group was keen to enter the competition as we saw it as a great opportunity to use a multi-disciplinary approach for the design and development of a device that would improve the lives of disabled individuals.”

In the renal technologies category, funding was awarded to consultant nephrologist, Dr Nicholas Fardon, and Dr Prashant Verma, alongside teams from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. They will work on the development of a battery-powered ultrasound scanner optimised for viewing fistulae - expanded veins used for wide bore kidney dialysis needles.

Two solutions have been offered; the first to modify a scanner that is currently used in the veterinary field, and the second to evaluate the use of transillumination. The team will work with the Sheffield Kidney Institute to compare the two potential solutions and the technology that shows the greatest promise will be modified and trialled by specialist dialysis nurses. Feedback will then be used to finalise the design of the prototype device.

Over the coming months, the winners will have the opportunity to work with D4D’s specialist panel to help take the innovations forward.

In an interview with HES, Chris Harris, commercial director at D4D, said: “A lot of devices are designed and pushed through the NHS even though no one has thought to see if they actually address the needs of the patient and the service. We are essentially reversing that trend and asking key users and professionals exactly what they need before it is manufactured. We look for unmet clinical needs and then provide the help and support necessary to bring those products and solutions to market.

“The three focus areas are unglamorous and therefore often overlooked by research funding, but they are areas where we can make a major impact on people’s quality of life, dignity and independence.”

On the latest successful bids, he added: “Our aim is to provide the support to take innovations to the point where we can say ‘we know the patient needs this, the clinicians endorse this, and the NHS would benefit from this and therefore there is a market and we can help you’.

“We look at each concept and put them in front of key opinion leaders or patient focus groups so the developers can present a robust case to purchasers, which historically is very difficult in the NHS. We can’t say we can open the door to procurement within the NHS, but we are trying to develop a ‘kitemark’ of sorts that says if you are engaged with D4D is does add significantly to the innovation and may break down some of the barriers. The purchasers can see the product has been evaluated by a Department of Health-funded programme and that gives it a certain degree of credibility.”

Click here for more on the D4D programme

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