Innovation beyond the final frontier
Space might seem a long way off, but for several Irish companies it offers plenty of potential for innovation. If you look at it the right way, the challenges posed by a spacecraft can also help to solve problems on Earth.
Meanwhile, the information being picked up by satellites that circle the planet can give valuable insights into our environment, again if you look at it the right way.
Currently about 40 Irish companies are engaging with the European Space Agency (ESA) to carry out product research and development. So what are some of those companies doing?
Quick and compact blood testing
They include Cork-based Radisens Diagnostics, which is developing point-of-care blood-testing technology that gives rapid results from just a finger-prick of blood.
Radisens is working with the ESA to put its technology aboard the International Space Station, which is orbiting Earth and is home to several crew members at any one time.
The technology being developed by Radisens allows a person to put a drop of blood on to a small plastic disc; the disc is placed into a small instrument and the blood gets spun and analysed. Ultimately the idea is that a GP could take a small blood sample from a patient and could give the results during the same visit.
“You get lab-grade results within a couple of minutes,” says Radisens’s chief executive Jerry O’Brien, who is based at the Rubicon Centre at Cork Institute of Technology. “We concentrate on chronic disease – diabetes, thyroid disorder, heart disease and kidney disease – but we have a long road map to look at other health-related issues.”
And where does ESA come in?
“Currently on the International Space Station, they have a number of work stations to do blood testing – it’s the traditional route of taking of blood by needles, then that goes into a tube and into a big centrifuge,” O’Brien says. “In terms of potential contamination, safety and quality, it is a problem. We are very much solving those problems by putting the drop of blood on the disc and then everything is done on the disc.”
The €1 million project will send the Radisens’ technology to the ISS and use it to analyse astronauts’ blood for various bodily changes in space. The spin-off for Radisens is that the project is highly relevant to Earth, too.
“The space market isn’t a huge volume market,” says O’Brien, “but what we are developing in space is exactly what we need commercially as well. In the space station it’s a closed environment, so we can address all the quality, safety and containment issues, which are extremely important for an instrument like this in the GP clinic, where there are the same very high standards of quality and safety and control.”