Posted: 00:00 IST
The inventor of a tiny device containing micro-blades and a balloon that can cut though blockages in human arteries has won Enterprise Ireland's One to Watch Award 2009. The device was invented by Dr Bruce Murphy during research carried out while based at the National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science, NUI Galway.
Called a 'flexi-cutting sheath', the device, which contains tiny concealed blades that are exposed by inflating a balloon, is safer and more effective than existing medical devices used to clear blockages in arteries.
Dr Bruce Murphy, a mechanical engineer with expertise in vascular disease research, was presented with the award by An Tánaiste Mary Coughlan T.D. at the Enterprise Ireland Applied Research Forum 2009 in the Guinness Storehouse today.
Congratulating Dr Murphy on his win, the Tánaiste said: "Irish industry is already benefiting enormously from the knowledge and technology generated in our third level institutions. Dr Murphy is an excellent example of this technology transfer system in action. With support from Enterprise Ireland, he identified a need for a better medical device, developed his unique solution and linked up with entrepreneur Tim McSweeney to produce the device for sale in the global market for peripheral vascular devices which is worth $1.9 billion. It is this type of high value company that the Government, through Enterprise Ireland is focused on and I am pleased to learn that seven new high value companies like this one have already emerged in 2009" she said.
The device will help the 500,000 people worldwide that suffer from end-stage renal disease every year. Patients with this disease require dialysis 2-3 times per week which can result in blockages in their bloodstream. Dr Murphy's flexi-cutting sheath can be used to clear these blockages in a safer, more effective way than existing devices.
Another use of the device is in the treatment of peripheral arterial disease, which results in around 1,000 people in Ireland every year having a limb amputated because the main artery in their arm or leg gets blocked by hardened plaque which cuts off the blood supply.
By analysing existing products, Dr Murphy found that current cutting devices have the potential to damage blood vessels as the device is being removed from the body. To address the problem, he developed his balloon mounted flexi-cutting sheath with a protective silicone sheath which wraps around the tiny blades on the device while it is being navigated to and from the blocked site inside an artery by a physician. Because the blades can be retracted back into the flexi sheath when the balloon is deflated, Dr. Murphy has made the process safer for patients.
The flexi-cutting sheath is protected by a series of patents filed by NUI Galway. Dr Neil Ferguson from Ignite, NUI Galway's Technology Transfer Office, believes that this invention will improve patient care and is delighted to see it being commercialised. He said: "The patents that protect this invention from other firms developing copy-cat devices are amongst the 114 patent applications filed by NUI Galway over the last 3 years. During this period we have been very successful in generating over 36 licence agreements to both existing and start-up companies. More importantly, we have spun out 7 start-ups over the same period which plays an important role in the development of our economy".
Dr Murphy, now at TCD, and business partner Tim McSweeney, are getting support from Enterprise Ireland to set up their new company later this year in Galway to manufacture the device for sale in a niche market worth €100 million. The company will employ up to 10 people initially. Tim Mc Sweeney is no stranger to the medical device sector having played a leading role in establishing the presence of US giant Boston Scientific in Galway in 1994.
The award was presented in front of 250 researchers attending Enterprise Ireland's Applied Research Forum 2009, an event which focused on moving more valuable intellectual property and new technologies into companies through the national technology transfer system.