MIT, Boston, USA, 12th March 2019: Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton TD, today announced that CÚRAM, SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices, will partner in a tripartite collaboration worth €1.7 million to conduct research into smart cardiovascular repair technologies, through the US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership Programme. The project will be led by Dr Manus Biggs, Lecturer in Biomedical Engineering at NUI Galway, and CÚRAM researcher.

Speaking at a Science Foundation Ireland event in Boston, Minister Bruton welcomed the announcement of the US-Ireland Partnership, saying: “Ireland continues to be an excellent location for collaborative research. I am delighted to welcome this US-Ireland partnership which furthers strengthens the strong and historic relationship between both countries. It is a testament to Ireland’s scientific prowess, that we are working closely with top institutions across the world, generating valuable discoveries and innovations that can benefit societies and economies across the globe.”

The US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership, launched in July 2006, is a unique initiative that aims to increase the level of collaborative R&D amongst researchers and industry professionals across three jurisdictions: United States of America (USA), Republic of Ireland (RoI) & Northern Ireland (NI).

This tripartite center-to-center (C2C) research collaboration will be conducted in conjunction with the National Science Foundation-funded centre for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST), led by North Carolina State University and the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queens University Belfast. Its’ goal is to use combined expertise in advanced sensor systems, microanalytical systems, biomaterials, energy harvesting, and systems biology to transform current medical interventions and standards of care to research and develop externally-powered implants for continuous cardiovascular health monitoring.

Dr Biggs will lead the research programme in Ireland in conjunction with collaborators Dr Martin O’Halloran and Prof Stewart Walsh at CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices based at NUI Galway. Funded by Science Foundation Ireland, CÚRAM’s primary objective is to radically improve health outcomes for patients by developing innovative implantable ‘smart’ medical devices to treat major unmet medical needs. Commenting on the award, Dr Manus Biggs remarked that: "This US-Ireland R&D Partnership award will facilitate exciting multi-disciplinary research between three centres of excellence in science and engineering. We look forward to working with our partners in the US and Northern Ireland on this critical healthcare need.”

Cardiovascular diseases are one of the leading causes of death globally, resulting in close to 20 million deaths in 2018. However, despite evidence-based medical and pharmacologic advances the management of cardiovascular disease remains challenging, whether in the ambulatory setting where periodic disease monitoring has failed, or in the inpatient setting where readmission rates and morbidity remains high. It is estimated that 90% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable, yet there is an urgent need to develop strategies to reduce hospitalisations and readmission rates.

“As our global community grows even more interwoven, we are presented with exciting opportunities and new challenges. We know the benefits of global cooperation, and we are proud to have supported some of the breakthroughs those collaborations have inspired,” said Rebecca Keiser, head of NSF's Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE). “This partnership between the NSF ASSIST ERC, the DfE CCRCB Center, and CURAM SFI Research Centre will work on principles and technologies that are essential to develop revolutionary implantable sensors and monitoring devices to address cardiovascular disease and is an excellent example of the sort of breakthroughs that can come from our trilateral partnership with Science Foundation Ireland and the Department for the Economy.”

Addressing the award, Dr Darragh McArt said “The Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University Belfast is delighted to be involved is such a significant programme and connected to key partners in Ireland and in the US. Our abilities to harness cutting-edge technologies to monitor and alleviate diseases is paramount to our ambition to offer new paradigms for precision medicine.” Prof Mark Lawler, Chair in Translational Cancer Genomics, Queen’s University Belfast, added: “QUB has invested heavily in infrastructure and people to address the big data challenges in health. This programme will employ an innovative patient-centered data driven approach that will improve cardiovascular health and will also have relevance for other diseases.”

The invention of various cardiac sensors based on i.e. electrocardiograph (ECG) and blood pressure monitoring, offers new opportunities in cardiovascular diseases prevention through long-term monitoring of vital physiological signals. Work is currently aimed at improving these devices with a view to making the electronic–biological interface as seamless as possible, providing continuous monitoring of patients following surgery, revealing signs of surgical recovery or disease progression. This allows doctors to record physiological performance and deliver treatment, should the patient require urgent life-saving medical attention. Critically, bio-monitoring approaches that identify the synergy among electrophysiological, biochemical, and mechanical markers have been proposed by Dr Biggs as disruptive technologies for next generation solutions to cardiovascular disease.

Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “The US-Ireland R&D Partnership Programme is a unique, cross-jurisdiction initiative, which fosters excellent scientific discovery. I congratulate Dr Biggs and his collaborators on this award, which highlights the benefit of scientific collaboration between researchers on the island of Ireland and across the Atlantic.”