A medical device to be trialled by a spinout company at NUI Galway could improve the lives of millions of people with an irregular heartbeat and save world health systems billions of euro a year.

While clinical trials are not due to begin until 2020, confidence in the firm has been shown by its selection as the highest-ranked of 1,280 applications for the latest round of a European fund for high-potential innovation.

The €2.5m from the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument fund will allow AuriGen Medical develop its product, aimed at reducing risk of stroke and heart failure, for those first trials in humans.

The company is working on a device to increase the success of a procedure that seeks to eliminate the irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation, and the associated high risk of strokes.

Its founders, Tony O’Halloran and John Thompson, hope the device will allow treatment for atrial fibrillation patients who have persistent or long-standing disease.

They account for nearly 75% of the 10m atrial fibrillation patients across Europe, but can not have their problem addressed by current treatment options such as medication, cardioversion, or ablation that only address the minority who have intermittent disease.

Ablation is a procedure to scar or destroy heart tissue that allows incorrect electrical signals that cause an abnormal heart rhythm.

Because the procedure can be hit and miss, an estimated 200,000 people need repeat ablations each year as the irregular heartbeat problem recurs. AuriGen’s device aims to significantly reduce costs as repeat ablations can cost over €40,000.

Atrial fibrillation happens when the electrical impulses controlling the heartbeat do not travel in an orderly way through the heart, meaning many fast and chaotic impulses affect the ability of blood to be pumped between different chambers of the heart.

The AuriGen device is to be implanted in the left atrial appendage, a small ear-shaped pouch in the muscle wall of an upper chamber of the heart where blood can collect if a patient has atrial fibrillation.

By closing off the appendage, risk of clots and resultant strokes will be reduced, but the device’s sensor technology will also allow disruption of the abnormal electrical signalling.

As the company’s chief technology officer, Mr O’Halloran said the new investment will help the firm hire key personnel, and further advance the product’s development.

“Our pre-clinical trials have been very encouraging and the feedback from cardiologists is extremely positive,” he said.

NUI Galway did not provide details requested by the Irish Examiner about its shareholding in the company. The technology was developed at NUI Galway using commercialisation funding from Enterprise Ireland.


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