In the third of our series of Research Articles for 2015, Claire Riordan, Science Engagement Officer with the CÚRAM Centre for Research in Medical Devices in NUI Galway, writes about the history of medical devices and tells us about some of the exciting research being carried out at CÚRAM.
What is a Medical Device?
When you think of a medical device, what do you see? An inhaler? A stent? An artificial hip or a wound dressing?
Actually, one of the very first medical device inventions was the magnifying glass! It was designed in 1250 by Roger Bacon. It was the first convex lens designed for scientific purposes. In 1280, these lenses were used to correct farsightedness. Now, they are crucial in any surgical procedure.
But what exactly is a medical device?
A medical device is something that is designed to be used on human beings to diagnose, prevent, monitor, treat or lessen the effects of a disease, compensate for an injury or handicap or to replace or change part of the body’s anatomy or a physiological process. Some other major milestones and inventions in medical device history include:
The Stethoscope – In 1815 René Laënnec (French physician) used a trumpet-shaped wooden tube, to examine an obese person whose heart he could not hear by pressing his ear to the chest – the first example of the stethoscope.
X-Rays – In 1895 Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (German) discovered the X-ray or the “alleged discovery of how to photograph the invisible.”
1936- Pacemaker Albert S. Hyman – It was 10 inches long and weighed less than a pound and supplied the heart with an electrical current with adjustable voltage.
1943 – Dialysis machine – Willem J. Kolff (a Dutch Physician) – Working with tin cans and parts from washing machines during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands he developed the first dialysis machine to treat patients with diabetes.
1971 CT Scanner – First commercial CT scanner, developed by Godfrey Hounsfield, was used on a patient in London. He shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
2004 Adaptive Knee – The Rheo knee, a plastic prosthetic joint that adapts to a user’s walking style and changes in terrain, was produced by the Ossur Corporation (Iceland).
These are only a few examples. Today there are lots of different types of medical devices.
As the world’s population gets older medical device use is more and more common. Chances are you know someone who uses an inhaler or has had a stent implanted to help their arteries function properly.
Other examples of medical devices include the nebuliser, which sends potentially life-saving drugs directly into the lungs of critically ill patients.
Additionally, ‘scaffolds’ are devices that can be placed inside the body to encourage bones and soft tissues to heal. Medical devices also include thin films, glues or dressings that quickly deliver drugs to where they are needed inside the body.
CÚRAM is the new research centre based at NUI Galway where researchers are now developing the next generation of ‘smart’ medical devices that work with the body to help improve the quality of life for patients that suffer from long term illness.
Our researchers are not only improving traditional types of medical devices, but are also inventing new ways of helping the body recover from and improve the way it deals with disease. Inspiration for new devices is often found in nature. Biomaterials, like silk from a butterfly cocoon and algae from the ocean, can be used in the design and development of devices that work well with the body and increase the effectiveness of the device.
The next generation of medical devices will include implantable materials that will do a lot more than perform a mechanical function – they will also be able to release new cells or drugs where and when needed inside the body. There are lots of exciting ideas and designs for the future!
“So, what medical device would you design? How would it make your body function better? Or what illness would it treat? How would you make it? Our researchers can teach you if you are interested in booking a workshop. We are looking forward to working with you and seeing the devices that you create!”
For more information, contact Claire Riordan claire.riordan[at]nuigalway.ie