Irish-led project bags €4.4m for ‘disruptive’ blood pressure device

31 Jan 2023

From left: Dr Atif Shazad, Prof William Wijns, Prof Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh and Dr Sandra Ganly. Image: University of Galway

Led by the University of Galway, Smartshape is on a mission to create a microsensor that can be inserted into the body to monitor blood pressure.

An Irish-led consortium has been awarded €4.4m in EU research funding to develop a medical device that can continuously monitor a patient’s blood pressure outside of a hospital setting.

The Smartshape project is currently developing a minimally invasive implantable device that aims to meet the demand for technology that can help monitor blood pressure in patients with chronic and potentially fatal diseases such as hypertension.

It is led by Prof William Wijns, a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) funded research professor in interventional cardiology at University of Galway’s College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences.

“The best innovations start with a clinical need. Patients who require monitoring are better off in their own homes rather than in a hospital setting,” said Wijns, who is also a funded investigator at Cúram, the SFI research centre developing innovative medical devices.

“There is a huge market opportunity for a medical-grade, user-friendly and minimally invasive solution for continuous blood pressure [BP] monitoring.”

9m deaths a year

According to the University of Galway, hypertension is the leading global contributor to premature death, accounting for more than 9m deaths a year. Elevated blood pressure can also lead to serious cardiovascular events if left undiagnosed or poorly controlled.

IP-protected Smartshape aims to address this global challenge by creating a sensor that is “technologically disruptive”, according to Dr Atif Shahzad of the University of Birmingham, who is also joint director of the Smart Sensors Lab at the University of Galway.

“There are challenges related to biocompatibility, longevity and delivery to the target tissue, and these need to be overcome to deliver the sensor to the market,” said Shahzad.

Smartshape will address these challenges by formulating a biomaterial that is a temperature-dependent shape memory polymer (SMP). A biomaterial is a material designed to take a form that can direct, through interactions with living systems, the course of any therapeutic or diagnostic procedure.

“SMPs will enable the development of a microsensor that can be curled up, introduced into the body through a minimally invasive procedure, and ‘opened up’ when placed at body temperature to take a predefined shape,” Shahzad explained.

‘Beyond just BP monitoring’

The consortium led by the University of Galway consists of eight institutions across Ireland, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Also counted among its partners are two multinationals, one ISO-certified company, two SMEs and a patient collaboration company.

“Blood pressure monitoring will represent the first Smartshape application. However, the potential of this sensing solution goes significantly beyond BP monitoring,” said Dr Sandra Ganly, a senior research fellow in cardiovascular risk factor research at University of Galway.

“Continuous physiological pressure monitoring can provide key information for early diagnosis, patient-specific treatment, and preventive healthcare in a wide range of healthcare indications. This will significantly broaden the potential and open avenues for other products and research innovation.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic