Irish and US researchers to improve delirium detection

28 Nov 2011

(From left) Prof Colum Dunne, director of Research, Graduate Entry Medical School; Dr Chris Exton, Computer Sciences and Information Systems, UL; and Prof David Meagher, chair of Psychiatry, GEMC and consultant psychiatrist, University Hospital Limerick

Medical researchers from University of Limerick in Ireland and the state of Indiana in the US are on a mission to improve how delirium is detected via computer diagnostics. If successful, their research could prove to have major clinical implications for treating those with delirium.

The researchers hail from the Graduate Entry Medical School (GEMS) at University of Limerick, Eli-Lilly & Company and Indiana University Medical School in the US.

They have been awarded €175,000 in funding to develop a portable automated device that can be used in any clinical or community setting to allow early diagnosis and treatment of delirium. This research is being funded by the Health Research Board under the Health Research Award Scheme 2011.

Speaking this morning, Prof David Meagher, who is chair of Psychiatry at GEMS and lead researcher, talked about the clinical significance of delirium.

He has collaborated with Prof Paula Trzepacz, Eli-Lilly & Company and Indiana University Medical School in the US for a number of years in order to clarify the characteristics of delirium.

According to Meagher and Trzepacz, through clinical research, the features of delirium have been identified and can now be assessed using a computerised diagnostic device that minimises the demands upon patients, many of whom may not be co-operative due to the presence of delirium.

Also a consultant psychiatrist at University Hospital Limerick, Meagher said delirium is a “medically urgent, acute neuropsychiatric syndrome” that is linked with considerable morbidity and mortality and poor prognosis in the elderly.

“Delirium affects 11-42pc of medical-surgical inpatients and as many as 80pc of intensive care and nursing home patients. Poor detection results in about 50pc of cases being missed in real-world practice.”

He said this poor level of detection is a “direct consequence of the absence of systematic and formalised approaches to cognitive assessment in routine healthcare”.

Delirium research team

This research will be led by Meagher. It involves a multidisciplinary team that includes Trzepacz; Prof Colum Dunne, director of Research, GEMS; Prof Walter Cullen, chair of General Practice, GEMS; Dr Chris Exton, Computer Sciences and Information Systems; Dr Con Cronin, St John’s Hospital, Limerick; and Dr Marion Conroy, Milford Hospice and University Hospital Limerick.

Meagher also said this research is a good example of fundamental clinical research being translated into a practical device.

Ireland’s booming medical devices sector

UL is continuing to build on its success in medical device research. The university was recently awarded top prizes at the Enterprise Ireland Clinical Innovation Award. Dunne also highlighted the significance of research in this field today.

“This funding is another important step in building on UL’s success in medical device and diagnostic research. Our clinicians are leading research which will not only enhance patient safety and clinical outcomes but they are developing innovative products which will drive Ireland’s leading role in the medical device and diagnostics sector.”

Ireland’s medical technologies sector is a significant global cluster for medical device and diagnostic products. Exports of medical device and diagnostics products are valued in excess of €7bn annually, representing 9pc of Ireland’s total merchandise exports. The sector employs 25,000 people, the highest number of people working in the industry in Europe, per head of population, with 60pc employed in the West and mid-west region.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic