Firm wears heart on its sleeve

Firm wears heart on its sleeve
Oisín McGrath

An Irish company has developed a wrist band to detect serious heart conditions.

A biomedical engineering graduate is developing a wristband device to detect a dangerous heart rhythm condition, after he was left without a diagnosis for 13 years.

Oisín McGrath’s Galenband arose from a masters thesis project at NUI Galway and his own experience of suffering ‘scary’ symptoms from about five years old.

“My heart would jump from 60 beats per minute to around 200 and then back down again after maybe 10 seconds to a minute or so.”

He attended specialists across the country in search of a diagnosis but “had no luck because the go-to method when heart rhythm abnormalities are suspected is to prescribe a monitor”.

Monitors are generally prescribed for one to two days or for up to a week.

But he says because his symptoms were intermittent and he had no structural abnormalities, that despite 11 different heart monitors and numerous ultrasounds and echograms, nothing showed up.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm abnormality and one of the leading causes of heart failure and stroke.

Mr McGrath says: “You don’t want to rely on luck when you’re dealing with a heart rhythm abnormality that can cause death and serious debilitation.”

He realised that the only reasonable way to be sure of detecting symptoms that occur irregularly is to monitor for a longer period. 

The Galenband is designed to monitor patients for up to 90 days, without need for interaction from the patient, with data recorded and wirelessly transmitted to the clinician’s computer.

“It’s just a simple wristband that you can just forget about once it’s on. You don’t have to recharge; there are no buttons to press; it’s just sitting on your wrist, monitoring your heart activity.”

The project recently received a grant of €500,000 from Enterprise Ireland, which will support two years of additional development.

The Galenband, named after the Greek physician Claudius Galen, who is believed to have first described the pulse, is in early development, with clinical studies estimated to start in about 18 months.

Mr McGrath, who has had three heart operations and says his condition is now manageable, says that while searching for a diagnosis, doctors told him his symptoms were “normal — you’ll grow out of it”.

But he knew “it didn’t make sense if everybody was experiencing that and nobody else was talking about it”.

Eventually, he underwent an invasive cardiac pacing procedure where three catheters are threaded up each leg to the heart, and electricity is applied to trigger the abnormality. 

He says the procedure is “a sure-fire way to get a diagnosis. But a bit extreme. So if there’s a simpler way, then you will want to take that.”

He says there’s no similar medical device on the market. 

The nearest alternative is patch monitors that stick to the skin with adhesive, but these are time-limited by restrictions imposed by the US Food and Drink Administration.

Mr McGrath was still at school when he started working on a monitor.

“I began developing Galenband out of my own need, and I wasn’t aware that millions of other people were in the same boat.” 

He was studying biomedical engineering at NUI Galway when he became aware that atrial fibrillation was a common problem. 

The business case arose when he realised, “maybe I can turn this into something that is self-sustaining and will allow me to help other people.”

In the US, planned as Galenband’s beachhead market, up to 6m people have atrial fibrillation, with an estimated one third undiagnosed, according to American non-profit Arrhythmia Alliance.

His work on the thesis project, where he collaborated with fellow students David Kerr, Belén Enguix, and Syed Kumail Jaffrey, won the Zenith award from Aerogen in 2018.

Galenband was the first ever Irish project chosen by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of its IDEA² Global programme. 

It also won the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science award for research in the field of medical engineering. 

The project also won the technology category of the National Disability Authority’s 2019 Universal Design Grand Challenge Student Awards. 

Mr McGrath has since formed a new team, software developer Patrick Conway coming on board for the grant period.

More on this topic

Fortnite returns with all-new island after black hole mysteryFortnite returns with all-new island after black hole mystery

Are you ready to GoMo?Are you ready to GoMo?

Why artificial intelligence needs to be handled with careWhy artificial intelligence needs to be handled with care

Human-like faces at self-service checkouts may reduce shoplifting risk – studyHuman-like faces at self-service checkouts may reduce shoplifting risk – study

More in this Section

Chile protests continue after government backs down on fare hikeChile protests continue after government backs down on fare hike

Serious Fraud Office closes Libor rigging investigationSerious Fraud Office closes Libor rigging investigation

Johnson insists EU free trade agreement can be struck amid no-deal Brexit fearsJohnson insists EU free trade agreement can be struck amid no-deal Brexit fears

IDA Ireland: Era of optimism with growth evident in all sectorsIDA Ireland: Era of optimism with growth evident in all sectors


Lifestyle

'When a role became available in The River Lee following the refurbishment, I jumped at the chance!'You've Been Served: Sinead McDonald of The River Lee on life as a Brand Manager

It’s the personal stories from Bruce Springsteen that turn his new ‘Western Stars’ documentary into something special, the director tells Esther McCarthy.Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars documentary more than just a music film

Apart from the several variations in its spelling in Irish and English, Inishtubbrid, Co Clare is also recognised by three other names: Wall’s Island; O’Grady’s Island and Inishtubber which surely puts it up there as the island with most names — not counting say Inisvickillane, Co Kerry which has about 33 variations to that spelling.The Islands of Ireland: In search of tranquility

More and more communities and volunteers are taking on environmental tasks around the country. In Clonmel, Co Tipperary, for example, people have united to get rid of Himalayan balsam, an invasive plant, from the banks of the River Suir.‘Bashing’ invasive plants

More From The Irish Examiner