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A project at Ulster University aiming to develop a better way of powering mechanical heart pumps used to treat heart failure has received a grant of almost £250,000 from national charity Heart Research UK.

The Novel and Emerging Technologies (NET) grant has been awarded to Prof Omar Escalona and his team at Ulster University and at Craigavon Area Hospital (SHSCT) to develop an innovative wireless power solution for heart pumps used to support patients with heart failure.

Heart failure occurs when the heart is not able to pump enough blood around the body. Around 920,000 people in the UK are currently living with heart failure, and one-fifth of patients die within one year of diagnosis.

Whilst the only effective solution is a transplant, mechanical pumps known as left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) can support a failing heart.

LVADs significantly improve survival and quality of life in patients with advanced heart failure, and are increasingly used as a temporary bridge to transplantation or as permanent therapy.

However, the electric power is supplied to LVADs via a driveline cable through the skin which leads to a high incidence of infection. The infection problem has prompted the development of wireless power transmission solutions for LVADs. However, the implanted energy receiver coil of these wireless systems causes heating in the tissues, leading to local skin and tissue damage.

Professor Escalona and his team are developing a new wireless system which transmits electromagnetic wave pulses of energy in a new way, meaning tissues can cool down between energy transmission pulses.

If successful, this could improve clinical outcomes and quality of life for heart failure patients and may accelerate a more widespread use of LVADs in the treatment of heart failure.

Professor Omar Escalona said:

“This is an incredibly exciting project that really has the potential to improve outcomes for patients with heart failure who are a awaiting a heart transplant or who have been prescribed LVAD therapy for their heart condition.

By reducing the risk of infection and local tissue damage, we hope to make LVADs a more viable option for patients, and see an increase in both their uptake and their therapeutic benefit.

We are very grateful to Heart Research UK for appreciating our work at Ulster and supporting this research, and are looking forward to initiating the research project."

Kate Bratt-Farrar, Chief Executive at Heart Research UK, said:

“We are delighted to be supporting Prof Escalona’s research, which has the potential to have a big impact on the lives of those living with heart failure.

Our NET grants are all about backing new and innovative developments in medical technology that can quickly and efficiently translate into real patient benefits.

The dedication we see from UK researchers is both encouraging and impressive and we at Heart Research UK are proud to be part of it.”

The £248,436 grant was awarded to Ulster University as part of Heart Research UK’s annual awards for research into the prevention, treatment and cure of heart disease.

In the last year, Heart Research UK has awarded more than £1.3 million in grants for medical research projects across the UK. To date, the charity has invested more than £25 million in medical research via its grants programme.