Irish companies get to the point at ‘MedTech Idol’

Irish start-ups made it to the finals of an international MedTech Idol competition in Dublin earlier this month – and one of them walked away with the top prize

Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 01:10

“Physicians usually rely on feeling a small loss of pressure when they get into the epidural space,” explains Conor O’Shea, acting chief technology officer with the University College Cork-based start-up ProDural, “but it can take trainees quite a while to get the feel for this.”

O’Shea presented at the MedTech Idol final about the innovation, developed with Dr Pádraig Cantillon-Murphy at UCC and Dr Peter Lee, a consultant anaesthetist at Cork University Hospital.

It is a small, inflating diaphragm at the syringe’s tip designed to collapse when the needle is in place, so the physician has a visual cue as well as feeling the loss of pressure in the syringe, O’Shea says.

“If you can see the balloon collapse, immediately you will know you have reached the epidural space.”

So far, the device has been tested on cadavers. “We compared ProDural to an existing loss-of-resistance syringe in a number of areas advancing up along the vertebrae,” he adds.

“In each of the locations, ProDural positively identified the epidural space and our general feeling is that the immediate collapse improves the reaction time of the physician.”

O’Shea also stresses the relative simplicity of the approach.

“We initially looked at using sensors, but there are options out there that use complicated technologies and they have really struggled,” he says. “Anaesthetists are quite comfortable with the current way and this makes it a small bit better.”

ProDural is now looking to set up trials to see if the device reduces the time it takes for trainee anaesthetists to reach proficiency. The start-up has an eye to the US market for epidurals in obstetrics and to treat back pain, notes O’Shea.

Other finalists presenting at IN3 were Israel-based HeadSense with a non-invasive device for measuring intracranial pressure and US- and Dublin-based NeuroTronik, which is looking to use neuromodulation in heart failure.

Testing hurdle
Securing investment to bring medical devices through clinical testing is a major hurdle for start-ups, and getting the right investors on board makes all the difference, according to Dr Alan O’Connell, who is a partner at life sciences investment firm Seroba Kernel.

He was on the judging panel for MedTech Idol and says having four Irish companies in the top 10 – Produral, AventaMed, NeuroTronik and Dublin-based Incereb – is “particularly impressive and testament to the level of talent in the Irish med tech sector.”

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