Disorders of the heart’s rhythm – known as cardiac arrhythmias – are increasing in prevalence with our ageing population, at great cost to our health system.
The most effective treatment in many cases is a procedure called radiofrequency catheter ablation, in which a tube inserted through a blood vessel into the heart delivers radiofrequency energy to create tiny lesions at the sites causing abnormal rhythms, in order to eliminate the arrhythmia.
While this technique is potentially curative, its success depends on the effective formation of lesions – which surgeons currently have no way of monitoring as they create them. Secondary procedures are therefore often required, multiplying the costs of treatment as well as the risk and recovery time, and reducing patient experience.
But a world-first non-invasive imaging technology now in development will measure heating in the heart to monitor the effectiveness of the procedure as surgeons perform it, improving accuracy and safety and resulting in better treatment outcomes.
Now at prototype stage, the technology is the product of a partnership between MicroPace Pty Ltd and a multidisciplinary team of University of Sydney researchers and clinicians led by Dr Pierre Qian.
MicroPace was established by University of Sydney graduate Dr Michael Cejnar in 1995, and now collaborates with researchers internationally to develop and commercialise technologies that advance the diagnosis and management of cardiac arrhythmias and other conditions, distributing its products to more than 60 countries worldwide.
CEO Roman Greifeneder says the company has collaborated with University of Sydney researchers on a number of projects, and considers the relationship advantageous to both parties.
Collaborating with the University of Sydney provides access to experts, resources and facilities that can save time and cost and remove bottlenecks,” he says. “The partnership also benefits MicroPace through broader University networks, allowing access to equipment and experts if and when needed.
Dr Qian agrees that the partnership is mutually beneficial.
“Medical innovation is driven at grassroots level at universities,” he says. “As clinicians and researchers, we have expertise and facilities that our industry partners don’t have. As end users, and with experience in preclinical and clinical trials, we provide key resources for product validation.”
The success of medtech companies is also ultimately dependent on the treatment decisions made by clinicians, Dr Qian notes, including whether they will actually use the resulting product, so it is advantageous to involve clinical researchers from the outset – a strategy that also enables access to commercialisation streams available only to such partnerships.
For their part, academic researchers can only progress so far without an industry partner who can help bring the concept to commercial product stage with an understanding of the relevant market, competitors, potential consumers, and distribution and marketing channels.
“An industry partner also brings to the partnership the contacts and distribution channels that are important to commercialisation,” Dr Qian adds. “So it’s a symbiotic relationship – we’re each helping the other with something different that the other doesn’t have.”
The spin-off benefits of industry–researcher partnerships also extend beyond individual partners and projects to the broader medtech ecosystem.
“In the process of partnering with industry, our research team learns more about the process of product development, and vice versa,” Dr Qian explains. “Being part of a partnership like this allows people to move from science research into industry, and from industry into research.”
Of course, the ultimate achievement of a collaboration like this one is the advancement of medical technology – and it’s the prospect of being able to bring that advancement to market, where it can start enhancing patients’ lives, that drives everyone involved.
“This technology would be a useful capability that would lend MicroPace a competitive advantage,” Greifeneder says. “We look forward to being an industry partner to this exciting application.”