Home Articles Medical tech: Good for what ails you

Medical tech: Good for what ails you

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We often associate high tech with exciting gadgets, but it’s easy to forget that technological advancements are responsible for saving thousands of lives every day. It’s big business, with profound purpose. Catherine Kerstjens and Liz Heynes profile six “Medical and Scientific” category finalists from the 2006 Australian Design Awards.

A SLEEPING BEAUTY

By Catherine Kerstjens

Sufferers of sleep disordered breathing (SDB) have long had a friend in Sydney-born company ResMed. But ResMed has never stopped to count sheep, instead continuing to improve its existing technologies and product range.

“The ResMed S8TM Series flow generator and HumidAire 3iTM humidifier system will go a long way in improving the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world. Its compact size and ease-of-use makes it simple for sufferers of sleep apnea to incorporate comfortable and flexible treatment into their lifestyle and homes,” says Rob Douglas, ResMed’s Chief Operating Officer (Sydney).

Up to 20 percent of the adult population suffers from SDB. One of the results of this debilitating medical condition can be the experience of repeated apnea while sleeping. Sleep apnea can narrow or close a person’s upper airway, causing snoring or even preventing airflow for periods of up to ten seconds.

When you consider that this sleep disruption can occur several hundred times a night, it is not surprising to learn that the condition is associated with other serious health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and depression.

With its latest continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) development, ResMed has continued its innovation in the area of management of SDB and further cemented its reputation as a world leader in the field.

The ResMed S8TM Series flow generator and HumidAire 3iTM humidifier system is incredibly compact in size – offering maximum portability and comfort – but doesn’t skimp on medical features and advantages.

The system works by providing positive air pressure to the upper airway during sleep. The modular design allows the device to be customised to suit individual patient needs. Features such as large controls, backlighting and tactile feedback make it easy to operate at night.

These unique design features were recently recognised at the Australian Design Awards – with ResMed winning the award’s top prize for its device.

ResMed exports its products to 65 countries. It’s enough to make us all rest easier.

www.resmed.com.au

SPINAL TREATMENT GAINS TRACTION

By Liz Heynes

Many of us experience the trauma of back pain at least once in our lives. To help ease the discomfort, Design + Industry has come up with Triton Traction for the Chattanooga Group, a device that was a category winner at this year’s Australian Design Awards.

Physiotherapists use traction therapy to relieve painful lumbar and cervical spine conditions, to promote healing and to straighten spinal curvature and stretch spinal musculature. However, traditional traction-therapy equipment has a hulking presence that is threatening for many patients, and that fear can hinder treatment.

Brad Ryan, Director of Design + Industry, explains that before the arrival of the Triton, there had been no significant developments in traction therapy for more than 20 years.

“Reinvigorating the treatment for the 21st century, Design + Industry’s system has a pivoting colour touch-screen so that the clinician can position the display for optimum viewing and present pre-treatment information to the patient. It’s also less physically threatening than traditional devices, improving a patient’s acceptance of the treatment and, as a result, its effectiveness. In short, ergonomics are at the very heart of the Triton design philosophy.”

According to Ryan, the medical sector is increasingly focusing on improving patients’ treatment experiences and educating patients to increase outcomes. “It’s about creating user-friendly, non-invasive products that are not only supremely functional for the clinician but also improve the patient’s overall experience and attitude towards their treatment. Products like Triton are filling a market-need in this sector.”

Sydney-based Design + Industry has been working with US company Chattanooga Group for more than 10 years. The fruit of their collaboration has won a number of accolades, including two Australian Design Awards and awards from the Industrial Designers Society of America, GOOD Design and ID Magazine, to name a few.

www.design-industry.com.au

SUSPECT MOLES: SAY CHEESE

By Liz Heynes

Australasia has the world’s highest incidence of melanoma, the cancer responsible for 97 percent of all skin cancer deaths. But how many times have you wondered if a mole was a ‘baddie’? Surgery is the usual method for finding out if an innocent looking mole is in fact a melanoma, but more than 30 benign moles are removed for every malignant melanoma that’s found, escalating patient trauma and financial costs.

To reduce this staggering statistic, Polartechnics has come up with the SolarScan, a hand-held skin-cancer diagnostic system that collects high-resolution digital images of suspect moles so that they can be monitored for change. The device, which has earned the approval of the Melanoma Foundation, was a category winner at this year’s Australian Design Awards.

SolarScan’s handpiece has a high-resolution video camera to collect images of moles. These images are stored and then retrieved at the patient’s next visit to detect any changes that signal malignancy. Polartechnics has developed patented technology that ensures images are stable and consistent between instruments. And because images are digital, they can be emailed to expert diagnosticians for quicker results.

As Polartechnics’ Sales & Marketing Manager Jamie Powell explains, “The system has a simple point-and-click interface to manage and simplify image collection so that less operator-training is needed; users don’t need skills in image processing or threshold setting. The device is also clever enough to detect operator errors, such as camera movement, and is a lot hardier than your average digital camera – it’s tough enough to survive a drop from table-height.”

The SolarScan system was developed over eight years from joint research between Sydney-based Polartechnics, the Sydney Melanoma Unit and CSIRO.

So next time you’re wondering if that freckle is a melanoma, you might find yourself in front of the camera rather than under the knife.

www.polartechnics.com

THE NEED FOR SPEED

By Liz Heynes

When you’re waiting for medical test results, a few days can feel like a lifetime. To reduce the wait and improve treatment prospects, the team at Vision BioSystems came up with the Peloris rapid tissue processor, which was shortlisted at this year’s Australian Design Awards.

Matthew Hoskin, Marketing Manager at Melbourne-based Vision BioSystems, a subsidiary of ASX-listed Vision Systems, acknowledges that with cancer occurrence continuing to rise, prompt diagnosis is crucial to ensuring maximum benefit is gained from rapidly advancing treatments. “A timely diagnosis not only reduces patient anxiety levels, but it may also improve recovery chances,” he says.

Vision’s Peloris device gives faster turnaround for test results, leading to quicker diagnosis, treatment and recovery. It also offers labs the security of uniform temperature conditions in the processing chamber, significantly improving tissue care.

Another big selling point is Peloris’ safety design. It doesn’t use xylene, a suspected carcinogen, or microwave radiation, improving lab conditions for users.

Since Peloris was launched in 2004, it has captured an impressive 70 percent of the Australian market, and is making inroads into international spheres.

Hoskin sees that the medical sector is under a lot of pressure to make improvements in many areas. “Better, faster and cheaper is the best way of summarising the future needs of the market,” he says. “It’s about reducing laboratory costs, improving quality and consistency of testing and lowering the occurrence of mistakes through integration with laboratory information systems.”

With Peloris and the company’s other R&D histology developments, complimented by an extensive internal resource pool of scientists, engineers and histology experts, Hoskin believes that Vision BioSystems is uniquely positioned to provide market solutions.

And meanwhile, for patients awaiting results with bated breath, even bad news delivered quickly could mean better outcomes.

www.vision-bio.com

GAS WORKS

By Catherine Kerstjens

Sydney-based company Vita Medical has not had much of a chance to catch its breath recently, but patients of its diagnostic technology – the Technegas Plus generator – are being encouraged to do just that: take a deep breath.

“Technegas Plus permits users to quickly and accurately diagnose pulmonary embolism – a condition which, if not treated speedily, can be life threatening,” says Dr Bill Burch, inventor of the generator.

Since 1976, Burch has been aware of the need for an effective diagnostic tool for the detection of pulmonary embolism – a condition that is often difficult to diagnose. His invention facilitates a potentially life saving scan that is quick, safe and non-invasive – all in the space of a single breath.

The unique technology allows the safe inhalation of a radioactive gas. Once inhaled by the patient, the gas is tracked and monitored by a camera, with the images providing significant results for medical review.

One of the advantages that the Technegas Plus generator offers over existing aerosol and gas technologies used in the detection of pulmonary embolism is that it uses a hydrophobic gas. This gas repels water, allowing it to penetrate deeper into the lungs, where it remains, allowing extensive imaging to be done.

Designed by Bayly Design Associates and recently recognised in the medical category at the 2006 Australian Design Awards, the Technegas Plus generator is ergonomically designed and both user and patient friendly.

With the generators now available in almost all markets around the world, VitaMedical are finalising a submission for FDA approval that would fast-track the product’s entry into the huge US market.

www.vitamedical.com.au, www.baylydesign.com.au

CUTTING EDGE

By Catherine Kerstjens

Queensland company Qlicksmart’s single-use sterile scalpel blade remover is well positioned to dramatically reduce the number of injuries and contaminations resulting from surgery sharps use around the world.

“Our product, the Qlicksmart SINGLE, is a world first and meets the recommendations within the Australian standards for scalpel blade removal,” says Dr. Michael Sinnott, Managing Director of Qlicksmart.

These standards recommend a single-handed method of blade removal – without the use of fingers or forceps. The Qlicksmart SINGLE builds on Qlicksmart’s previous success with their flask scalpel blade remover, a widely used system that disengages the blade from its handle and is able to safely store 100 blades within a small unit before requiring disposal.

Using this same patented technology (invented by Dr Neville Henry in 1993), the sterile Qlicksmart SINGLE was specifically designed for use by the scrub nurse and offers a neat solution to the common cry from hospital staff frustrated at the options available to them – ‘There has to be a better way!’

Once the scalpel is used, by inserting the blade into the SINGLE cartridge and pushing down until a clear ‘click’ is heard, the blade is removed from its handle. It is contained in a transparent puncture resistant cartridge – allowing an accurate count and subsequent disposal as medical waste. Importantly, it is not necessary to handle the holder whilst the blade is disengaged – meaning that fingers are kept out of harm’s way.

Following extensive testing against over 300 scalpel blade and handle combinations, the Qlicksmart SINGLE has proved itself compatible with blades for all commonly used reusable handles.

As such, it represents a significant step towards improved patient and staff safety and will reduce the trauma and infection associated with sharps injuries worldwide.

Now sold in over 30 countries – including the US, Canada, Japan and UK – Qlicksmart has entered into a partnership with Brisbane-based company Smartstream that will further bolster their sales and marketing efforts.

www.qlicksmart.com

*End note:

Cochlear’s Nucleus Freedom System and Ventracorp’s VentrAssist device were also recognised as winners in the “Medical and Scientific” category at the 2006 Australian Design Awards, but were unable to participate in this feature (Ventracorp were featured recently in Australian Anthill issue 15).

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