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Ulster University to revolutionise implantable medical device care

Professor Omar Escalona who is leading the research at Ulster University. Pictured Professor Omar Escalona who is leading the research at Ulster University.

The way in which medical implants, such as pacemakers and insulin pumps, are used around the world to treat chronic, life-threatening medical conditions could be about to change forever, thanks to pioneering energy technology being developed by scientists at Ulster University.

Currently, patients with such devices have to undergo surgery or other invasive procedures to either recharge the batteries or replace the entire device before the batteries expire.

Ulster University’s team of engineering researchers, in collaboration with the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, is creating highly innovative wireless energy technology, which will mean that patients can simply recharge the implant wirelessly through the skin. This will dramatically reduce surgical risk to patients and associated healthcare costs across the globe.

Renowned for world-leading advances in connected health technologies, Ulster University is carrying out the research as part of a wider collaboration with Chonbuk National University (CBNU) in South Korea, with joint funding from the Medical Research Council (UK) and the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (South Korea), in a successful MRC-KHIDI Partnering Award.

Lead researcher, Professor Omar Escalona from Ulster University said: “This new Ulster University research in collaboration with Chonbuk National University, will help to make significant advancements in the field of wireless power supply for the global medical device industry.

“Wearable and implantable medical devices address a wide variety of healthcare needs and range from insulin pumps and pacemaker to cochlear implants and artificial heart pumps, all of which depend on a continuous and sustainable energy supply.

“The University’s compact wireless charging technology will eliminate the need for a driveline through the skin or use of conventional batteries that require changing when depleted. This means that patients are less likely to contract infection at the skin site of the driveline and will not require hospitalisation for battery replacement. This will reduce surgical risk to patients and any associated healthcare costs.

“This technology is the focus of many international research projects however Ulster University’s research is very specific to implants and has the potential to have major positive impacts on patient care and healthcare costs around the world. It aims to empower patients to take control of their own treatment and improve their quality of life."

As part of this research Ulster University will also facilitate an exchange for PhD or early career scientists across the partner institutions, helping to enhance knowledge sharing between the two countries while also developing the students’ international research skills.