TCD, UCD and RCSI Launch Biomedical Engineering Collaboration to Accelerate Innovative Health Care Technologies

Posted on: 20 December 2012

Ireland’s leading engineers, physicians and scientists are joining forces to develop 21st century health care devices and technologies in a new collaboration of the Dublin Biomedical Engineering Research Initiative (DBERI) announced this week. Stem cell based tissue engineering, regenerative therapies for orthopaedic medicine, valve repair devices for damaged hearts and imaging systems for neurology are just some of the new technologies  at the frontier of medical innovation that the new initiative will lead on. 

The Initiative builds on over 20 years of collaboration between Trinity College Dublin (TCD), University College Dublin (UCD) and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in bioengineering research and education.

“As is our tradition at Trinity College, we are bringing together diverse fields of engineering and medicine to catalyse innovation in novel ways,” said Dr Patrick Prendergast, Provost of Trinity College. “The goal of this new initiative is to improve health care delivery through new tools, technologies and medicines.”

Prof Fergal O’Brien, RCSI, Dr. Daniel Kelly, Director of the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering and Dr Liam Breen TCD. 

The primary objectives of the Dublin Biomedical Engineering Research Initiative (DBERI) are to foster engagement between clinical specialisations, engineering and science.  It will provide a focus for collaborative research, education and commercialisation/development activities, maximising the synergies and capitalising on its breadth of expertise. It will also increase the connectivity between the medical technologies industry sector, academics and clinicians.

“This is an important step towards the integration of different disciplines that increasingly share common goals,” said Dr. Daniel Kelly, Director of the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering. “Biomedical engineering in the three Institutions has already attracted a large number of outstanding academics from Schools of Medicine, Engineering, Natural Sciences and Dental Sciences who all share the objective of translating creative ideas into new clinical diagnostics, devices and therapeutics that will transform patient care.”

The new Dublin Biomedical Engineering Research Initiative will intersect broad areas of research and focus on new approaches to disease identification, simulation, clinical testing  together with the development of new interventions and the discovery of new therapies. 

Professor Fergal O’Brien, Head of the Bone and Tissue Engineering Research Group at RCSI, sees the Dublin Biomedical Engineering Research Initiative as a leader in designing next-generation therapies and devices.

“The next giant leap in patient care is going to happen through the joint efforts of engineering, life sciences, medicine and pharmacy specialists, applying their expertise to expand approaches for preventing, diagnosing and treating disease and injury,” said Prof. O’Brien. “Even though this formalised effort is still in its formative stage, we’re already seeing exciting results from these collaborations that will have a profound impact on patient care.”

The Dublin Biomedical Engineering Research Initiative aligns with award winning educational programmes offered by the three institutes. The M.Sc. in Bioengineering programme received two awards in 2012, the Engineers Ireland Excellence in Education Award & the GradIreland Best Postgraduate Course of the Year 2012 in Engineering. These awards recognise the scale and diversity that the course delivers in terms of the student experience, its contribution to the Irish economy and making an impact on global healthcare challenges.  

“With our top-ranked engineering and medical schools and our close ties to the country’s strong life sciences and technology industries, the Dublin Biomedical Engineering Research Initiative is uniquely positioned to make a significant contribution to the advancement of technologies to improve medicine and save lives,” said Professor Cathal Kelly, CEO and Registrar of RCSI.

The levels of collaborative engagement required within the biomedical engineering field are typified by the activities within and between the DRERI partners that have existed over several decades. By generating a platform for formal engagement, the initiative will see significant gains in the collective ability to introduce innovative applications of engineering into the clinical domain, and the establishment of successful spin-out companies, such as BiancaMed that originated from research in Biomedical Engineering in UCD, giving the medical device sector significant impetus in the region.  

“Putting the existing levels of collaborative activity onto a formal footing through this initiative enhances the capacity for further research and education programme delivery relating to the design and development of medical devices, diagnostics and therapies in the fields of orthopaedic, cardiovascular, rehabilitation and neural engineering.” said Professor David FitzPatrick, Director of the UCD Bioengineering Research Centre.

The Technology Transfer Offices across the three founding institutions have helped to license and spin off knowledge, technology and developments to medical device companies based in Ireland. Two patented technologies from Prof. O’Brien’s laboratory in RCSI for bone and cartilage repair are being commercialised through a spin-out campus company, SurgaColl Technologies. Patented technologies related to novel vascular stents from Dr. Kelly’s laboratory  were licensed to another spin-out company, Synergy Flow.

The ability to combine complementary skills across institutions to translate research outcomes facilitates the process of commercialising the Institutions’ innovations. “DBERI has the capability to identify medical needs, conceive solutions, prototype innovative devices and then link with development partners to move healthcare products from university to patient as quickly as possible”, said Dr Gordon Elliott of the Technology Transfer Office in Trinity College. 

Among the examples of ongoing Biomedical Engineering projects that have recently received funding across the institutes include:

– Spinal disc repair – Dr Conor Buckley (TCD) is developing an injectable microparticle biomaterial product that can be delivered to a degenerated disc using minimally invasive techniques. The product will potentially stimulate repair and regeneration of the disc by utilising a patient’s own cells. 

– Heart valve repair – Currently the standard treatment for mitral valve disease is open heart surgery; however the mortality rate during the surgical procedure for patients over 75 is approximately 25%. Dr Bruce Murphy (TCD) is developing a minimally invasive mitral valve replacement device.  

– Hypertension – Dr Bruce Murphy (TCD) is leading a project to develop a second generation renal denervation catheter.  The project goal is to produce a catheter that will reduce the arterial wall injury that is associated with current thermal renal denervation systems.

– Corneal repair – Prof. Fergal O’Brien (RCSI), in collaboration with colleagues in the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology in DCU and the Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital is developing scaffold-based systems for the regeneration damaged cornea in the eye.  This is funded by an SFI TIDA and the 3U Partnership – a recently launched initiative between DCU, NUI Maynooth and RCSI.  

– Cardiac regeneration – Dr. Garry Duffy (RCSI) is leading a project supported by Enterprise Ireland which aims to develop a bio-therapeutic loaded patch and surgical delivery system to treat heart failure by augmenting the hearts inherent healing capacity.

– Hearing loss and Cochlear Implants – Prof. Richard Reilly (TCD) is developing new objective methods to assess speech perception in Cochlear Implant users. The basis here is to record electrophysiological information from users to provide patient specific tuning of cochlear implants. 

– Deep Brain Stimulation:  Deep brain stimulation is an effective therapy for treating motor disorders including Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Madeleine Lowery (UCD) and her research group are developing computational models to understand the mechanisms by which DBS works and identify effective stimulation protocols.

The Dublin Biomedical Engineering Research Initiative will allow the best students from Ireland and abroad to obtain joint MSc and PhD degrees in biomedical engineering. To train future healthcare technologists, the Initiative will look to further integrate engineering and medical courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels as well as delivering short courses relevant to industry and the continuing professional development of medical device professionals. Seminars and a “Distinguished Lecture Series” will also explore topics related to regenerative medicine, neural engineering, medical devices and instrumentation, and a wide range of other areas.