Major biological challenges such as development of novel minimally invasive medical devices, smart sensing components integrated within surgical tools and real time point of care diagnostics are targeted research goals in the health, medicine and biotechnology sectors. Currently there are two research projects focused on the development of smart biomedical devices. The first project aims to develop a ‘SMART’ needle which will improve the safety of Ultrasound-guided peripheral nerve block (USgPNB) by providing the clinician impedance data to identify tissue type at the needle tip, while the second project involves the development of a probe integrated with an impedance sensor for early detection of breast cancer.
USgPNB refers to a set of medical procedures which facilitate surgical operations or are performed to treat acute or chronic pain. The needle tip position relative to the target nerve is crucial to the safe but effective practice of USgPNB. Nerve injury may occur if the needle used for nerve block enters the substance of the nerve. The peripheral nerve contains multiple bundles of nerve tissue embedded within a connective tissue and surrounded by a thin layer known as the epineurium.
Current ultrasound technology does not have sufficient resolution to adequately permit the identification of the epineurium.Placement of a needle beneath the epineurium during peripheral nerve block may directly harm the nerve bundles and their associated blood supply. Furthermore, the injection of anesthetic agents within the substance of the nerve may cause damage by increasing intra-neural pressure, limiting nerve blood flow, and direct chemical effects not fully understood. Injury to the peripheral nerve is permanent and can result in significant pain and disability should it occur. Therefore, intra-neural injection should be avoided. Our solution will facilitate more sensitive identification of a target nerve(s); real-time guidance of a needle toward the nerve(s), enabling precise deposition of an anesthetic agent around the nerve(s).
In the current climate where the health sector and Irish public demand better and more reliable tools for breast cancer detection, the delivery of such a device would enable clinicians to identify earlier the presence of a malignant tumour. This minimally invasive approach could potentially enable detection of other cancer forms (e.g. prostate cancer) by tailoring the device accordingly, thus opening up other markets and potential exploitation opportunities. The multi-disciplinary nature of this project brings together researchers and clinicians to tackle the societal challenge of detecting breast cancer at an early stage in order to further reduce mortality rates by advancing the minimal invasive technology that can complement the existing gold standards.
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