Research Excellence Commended at NUI Galway with Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards at the Education Awards

NUI Galway’s College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences were recently awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards at the national Education Awards 2021. The Education Awards recognise, encourage and celebrate excellence in the third level education sector on the island of Ireland from both State and privately funded institutions.

Dr Barry McDermott, representing the Translational Medical Device Lab at NUI Galway, was the winner of the Best Research Project category for his research, ‘BrainBox: Electrical Impedance Tomography with Machine Leaning for Stroke Diagnosis’. This project, which represented part of Dr McDermott’s PhD research, was focussed on the design, development, and implementation of a new medical device to be used to image and diagnose stroke with the assistance of artificial intelligence (AI).

Stroke is the second most common cause of death globally and a significant cause of morbidity with survivors often left with permanent neurological damage. A crucial part of the patient pathway for stroke sufferers is rapid and definitive diagnosis of the cause as being a bleed or a clot as only then can treatment start. This diagnosis requires CT or MRI scanning with delays leading to irreversible loss of brain function.

Dr McDermott explained: “Our approach was to use impedance image – based on the idea that the electrical impedance patterns of the brain differ between normal, bleed, and clot cases. However, these patterns are often subtle and hard to tease out so the incorporation of AI was key. A prototype device has been developed, using a novel algorithm and testing on real human stroke patients has showed a diagnostic accuracy of 85%.

“The device has been packaged as a low-cost, portable and robust unit suitable for use by first responders to allow rapid commencement of treatment. This means it is particularly useful for use in remote locations which might be some distance from main hospitals. The project has been a huge success with a number of international collaborations starting as a result of the work, and the commencement of an allied project based on the same technology, a surgical margin assessment in lung cancer patients.”

This project is one of a large number of medical device design projects that are ongoing at the Translational Medical Device Lab at NUI Galway. These projects are targeted at having tangible impacts on patient care and support Ireland’s indigenous medtech industry.

The Translational Medical Device Lab, along with the Adrenal Research Group from the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences were shortlisted and won second prize for the Best International Collaboration Award, for their ongoing collaboration with the Kansas State University.

Dr Laura Farina, postdoctoral researcher on the programme, said: “This research programme brings together clinicians, veterinarians, scientists, engineers, physicists, chemists and data scientists in a truly cross-disciplinary, multi-institutional and collaboration. This collaboration is one of the only of its kind internationally. The group looks at the development of a novel solutions and treatments for high blood pressure, which have been caused by excessive hormone production by the adrenal gland. Using a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach, the research team will build the necessary knowledge and innovation to develop medical devices, nanotechnology (tiny particles which are designed to travel to specific tumours and organs to produce their effects) and drug treatments for patients with a hormonal form of high blood pressure, known as primary aldosteronism. This form of hypertension occurs in 7.5% of all patients with high blood pressure and is potentially curable with the right knowledge and treatments.”

Dr Farina continued: “The knowledge gained from this research, and the treatments which are developed as a result each have the potential to benefit millions of patients worldwide. The partnership combines clinical expertise, scientific rigour and engineering excellence with extensive knowledge of medical device design and nanotechnology. Overall, this research provides an exciting opportunity to improve patient care by future translation of our findings using science and engineering to the create a clinical solution.”

The value of such a collaboration has been recognised and granted with prestigious research funding through the Science Foundation Ireland/ The National Institutes of Health US-Ireland Research and Development Award, awarded to Dr Conall Dennedy (NUI Galway), Professor Martin O’Halloran (NUI Galway), Punit Prakash (Kansas State University) and Liam McDain (University of Ulster)

In congratulating the awardees Professor Tim O’Brien, Dean of the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at NUI Galway, said: “The research at this College is of impeccable standard. To have two projects acknowledged at national level shows the impact of the work being carried out in addressing some of the most common health challenges. Novel approaches are key to new discovery and this ethos is central to our research breakthroughs. I congratulate both teams sincerely for their successes.”

A third short-listed application, ’Best Covid Response Award’ was awarded third place in the highly competitive category. This application reflected the breath of work undertaken at the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Professor O’Brien added: “It is important to us as a College to have the culture of our entire community acknowledged. The way our College responded to the Covid-19 crisis over the last year reflects the University values of respect, excellence, openness and sustainability by coming together to be the best we can be. The application reflected the work of the research community in their response to some of the world’s biggest health challenges and the dedication of our teaching, professional services staff and technical teams. Crucially it also reflected how our students responded to the crisis through their support of the health service crisis by volunteering and their participation in civic engagement.”

More information about NUI Galway’s awards can be found at http://www.nuigalway.ie/medicine-nursing-and-health-sciences/educationawards.

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