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Ireland leads the way in ‘personalised’ medicine

Cutting-edge research in medical technologies has led to the development of devices which will improve the lives of patients in Ireland and around the world

Research in Ireland is advancing progress in personalised and targeted medicines, particularly in the area of oncology, which leads to better treatment outcomes for patients.

Diseases like epilepsy, motor neurone disease, cancer, heart disease and depression could be better targeted with this personalised approach.

"The same disease might affect one person in an entirely different way to another, based on a range of factors including genetic make-up, prior health status, diet and sex. Also, different people may respond differently to the same pharmaceutical drug," Lisa Ardill, communications fellow at Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) says.

The development of genetic sequencing and the discovery and use of biomarkers has given clinicians new tools to apply this personalised approach and new digital technologies, such as wearable health monitors through smartphones and apps offer unique opportunities for product development, Ciara Farrell, senior associate at Arthur Cox, says.


“In Ireland, we have a number of talented researchers dedicated to medical conditions. This is crucial for us to maintain our competitive edge in the global market for medical devices, currently estimated at $521.2 billion,” Ardill says.

Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of SFI and chief scientific adviser to the Irish Government, believes promoting collaboration between industry and academic researchers will keep Ireland ahead of the curve in personalised medicine.

Ireland is a leading location for medical technologies, with effective collaboration across enterprise and the academic research system. Innovative research is occurring in centres like CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices, FutureNeuro, the SFI Research Centre for Rare and Chronic Neurological Diseases and APC, the SFI Research Centre for the Microbiome. Findings from research at each of these centres will improve the lives of patients not only in Ireland, but all over the world.

SFI has also funded important partnership awards between industry and academic researchers, for example the IPath research project, a collaboration of Shire and academic researchers led by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, is pioneering a personalised approach to the treatment of bleeding disorders like haemophilia.

Medical device research

Another example of this approach lies within a hub for medical device research at CÚRAM, hosted by NUI Galway.

Professor William Wijns, SFI research professor of medical devices at NUIG, leads a €5 million research project into wearable sensors which would alert patients at elevated risk of heart attacks to triggers such as stress or high blood pressure.

And the announcements are still coming. In March of this year, CÚRAM announced a new research project as part of its partnership with Boston Scientific to develop medical devices that allow surgeons to support minimally invasive procedures when carrying out life-saving repairs for aneurysms and aortic valve repair.

Last month, FutureNeuro, the SFI Research Centre for Rare and Chronic Neurological Diseases, hosted by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, was officially launched by Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys. This centre pioneers personalised patient research into epilepsy and motor neurone disease – both the genetic basis of the diseases and the different responses of patients to treatments.

“Through world-class cutting-edge research in medical technologies we can profoundly change the lives of patients in Ireland for the better, and continued collaboration between academia and industry will accelerate this,” Ardill says.

There is one caveat, however – this type of research brings up a range of complex ethical, legal and social implications ranging from regulatory licensing and approval, quality and safety to privacy, cybersecurity and risk management and cost, Ciara Farrell says.

“These innovative models for healthcare delivery are impacted by cross-border regulation, policy and commercial practices. Regulatory issues need to be standardised, both in terms of the legislation but also in the interpretation and enforcement of that legislation,” she says.