CÚRAM – helping Ireland to lead the way in medical-device research
20 September 2016
CÚRAM postdoc researcher Aitor Larranaga in CÚRAM’s laboratory (Pic: Andrew Downes, xposure)
CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices, based at NUI Galway, is working on ways to make life easier for patients suffering from chronic illness by enhancing and developing medical devices that can last longer in the body and be more in tune to the needs of the individual patient, so as to alleviate human suffering.
One of 12 national Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centres, CÚRAM was established in 2015 and is funded both through SFI and industry partners. Led by National University of Ireland Galway, CÚRAM’s academic partners include University College Dublin, University College Cork, Trinity College Dublin, University of Limerick and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, where research into medical technologies has been going on for over 15 years.
Life expectancy in Ireland has increased significantly in the past thirty years. Despite this being a positive trend, a growing ageing population brings an increase in people suffering from chronic illness like heart disease, diabetes or Parkinson’s disease, and complications associated with chronic illness have a huge impact on people’s quality of life.
Ireland is recognised as one of the major global hubs for medtech research and development (R&D), a leading area of innovation, employment and export. The establishment of CÚRAM, a world-leading Irish medical device R&D centre improving and enhancing existing medical devices and developing the next generation of biomedical implants, cell device and drug-device combination products to address unmet clinical needs, is strengthening this position.
CÚRAM has a unique strategy in place that involves building and working within strong clinical, industry and academic networks, to stay ahead of the curve in medical-device development.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to develop a positive lasting impact, not only on the healthcare industry and the increasing number of individuals affected by chronic illness, but on our economy and society at a global level,” said Prof Abhay Pandit, scientific director of CÚRAM. “We aim to create a sustainable future for the medtech sector in Ireland and train the next generation of world class medtech scientists and entrepreneurs.”
Research into chronic illnesses
CÚRAM’s research is grounded in an understanding of implants and devices and the role they can play in providing structural support, function and diagnostic value and in assisting the body’s own repair and regenerative process.
Chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, disc degeneration, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and kidney disease, as well as asthma and emphysema, are all clinical targets for researchers at the Centre.
Key areas of expertise include biomaterials and drug delivery, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, glycoscience and medical-device design.
CÚRAM develops targeted, controlled, drug release systems, drug-device combination products, and multi-component biomaterial-based selective delivery systems to deliver molecules and macromolecules to specific organs, cells and/or sub-cellular compartments. These functionalised biomaterials work synergistically with the body to improve or replace functionality.
Scientific advances in stem cells, gene therapy, biomaterials, medical-device technology, growth and differentiation factors, as well as biomimetic environments have created unique opportunities to fabricate tissues in the laboratory, from combinations of engineered extracellular matrices (scaffolds), cells, and biologically active molecules.
In addition, use of these technologies to develop clinically translatable reparative and regenerative approaches is a major goal for CÚRAM.
Researchers are also involved in profiling the functions of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and other constituent carbohydrates, with the aim of developing compositions for use in modifying biomaterials for biocompatibility, pushing stem cells toward correct differentiation pathways, drug delivery with tissue specific cell homing ability and building immune responses.
CÚRAM is modifying the design and manufacture of current interventional and delivery medical devices to improve efficacy and minimise impact, improve the delivery of biomolecules and combination products at target sites and to develop relevant prototypes.
The Centre also has a translational group, who are looking at developing clinical trials at our University hospitals and promoting Ireland as an ideal base for carrying out Phase One studies for research outputs.
CÚRAM’s industry programme offers new product introduction, scalability of device and conformance with medical device standard, favourable licencing terms and conditions and strict scientific and financial project reporting structures.
“Advantages to Industry partners are numerous” said Prof Pandit, “Our partners have a competitive advantage by working with renowned experts, tapping into the latest research and innovations in the sector and have access to research equipment without the need to invest in their own. They also have the opportunity to access funding for R&D and to tailor research projects to specific industry requirements.”
The centre has secured over €18,929,000 in EU Horizon 2020 funding for research projects since its establishment in 2015. CÚRAM’s research themes are aligned with three key enabling technologies of nanotechnologies, advanced materials and biotechnology that underpin Horizon 2020’s three key priorities of excellence in science, industrial leadership and addressing societal challenges.
“CÚRAM has had some excellent successes since its establishment, only a year and a half ago, in terms of securing EU funding for cutting edge research projects” said Prof Pandit.
“We are particularly proud of securing €2.1 million earlier this year from the EU to co-fund Medtrain, a new international industry-academia fellowship program in medical devices that will run over the next 4½ years.”
Other CÚRAM programmes
The MedTrain programme will offer 31 prestigious two-year postdoctoral fellowships over the next 4.5 years to experienced researchers in the area of medical device research and development, including tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, biomaterials and drug delivery, glyco and protein engineering, and neuromodulation and computational modelling.
The MedTrain programme is based on individual-driven mobility, meaning that fellows will have the freedom to choose their research topic (provided that it falls within the remit of CÚRAM), their MedTrain supervisor, and their secondment organisation, which must be relevant to their research and career development.
The programme will provide an attractive and supportive working environment for the awarded fellows, in which they will have access to state-of-the-art infrastructure and teams of multi-disciplinary experts in the broad area of medical device R&D.
It will deliver high quality tailor-made training for fellows that will equip them with skills and experience required to meet their career goals as well as facilitating their engagement with industry through non-academic secondment partnerships.
Other EU-funded projects underway at CÚRAM include ‘BrainMatTrain’, which involves the development of biomaterial-based delivery systems for Parkinson’s disease. Almost €4 million has been secured by CÚRAM to lead a consortium of researchers on this new research project that will investigate novel treatments for Parkinson’s disease.
The ‘TRAIN-ERS’ project covers endoplasmic reticulum stress and its role in health and disease. Led by Prof Afshin Samali, a team in CÚRAM has secured €3.7 million to lead a consortium of researchers to research endoplasmic reticulum stress (ER stress), an emerging feature in the pathology of numerous diseases including cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, metabolic syndromes and inflammatory diseases that affect millions of people worldwide each year and pose an enormous cost to the health sector.
‘Tendon Therapy Train’ looks at engineering in vitro microenvironments for translation of cell-based therapies for tendon repair. This project has secured almost €4 million for the development of an advanced therapy medicinal product for tendon repair and regeneration. In addition, the project will train a cohort of 15 early stage researchers in the multidisciplinary field of advanced therapy medicinal products.
CÚRAM also has a strong public-engagement programme, which supports Science Foundation Ireland’s Agenda 2020 aim of ‘having the most scientifically informed and engaged public’.
The public-engagement programme is based around four key pillars, namely:
- Residency programmes for artists and teachers;
- ‘Science on Screen’, which provides filmmakers with funding and access to CÚRAM’s labs with the aim of raising the level of scientific content in Irish film and TV;
- ‘Breaking Barriers’, which focuses on promoting equal opportunities for any student considering a career in science; and
- The CÚRAMOBILE, our mobile outreach programme, which involves bringing interactive workshops to the public at national events like the Ploughing Championships and the BT Young Scientist competition.
Working with community partners is key to the programme, with projects like ‘Science on Screen’ under way in collaboration with Galway Film Centre, a series of artists in residence at CÚRAM exhibiting their work in the Galway City Museum and a new ‘Teachers in Residence’ programme about to kick off in October 2016.
For the first time, this ‘Teachers in Residence’ programme will bring primary and secondary school teachers together to work with researchers to develop a ‘MedTech learning module’ for classes at both levels.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2016/09/20/curam-research-medical-devices/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/1CUARAM-2016--1024x681.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/1CUARAM-2016--300x300.jpgBiobiomedical,medical devices,NUI Galway,pharma,research