Our inventors win $3m to bankroll novel medical devices

30 August 2017

Two revolutionary medical devices developed by University of Sydney PhD students were among the top innovations awarded nearly $3 million on Tuesday evening by the NSW Government's NSW Medical Devices Fund.

Dr Pierre Qian shows the Mu Catheter device to NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

Dr Pierre Qian shows the Mu Catheter device to NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

A magic lantern-shaped microwave-emitting catheter to control high blood pressure and “Oli”, a real-time monitoring pregnancy patch, were two of four medical devices awarded Medical Device Fund grants by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard at a ceremony at Parliament House last night.

They were two of four promising new medical devices awarded a share of $6.61 million in funding to bankroll their commercial development. 

“The NSW Government is taking home-grown medical innovation to the next level, firmly placing this state at the forefront of global health technology,” Minister Hazzard said in a statement.

“This fund gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to get game-changing ideas to market, not only keeping medical device companies in NSW, but significantly improving health outcomes and even saving patients’ lives.”

The inventors of the medical devices awarded Medical Device Fund grants this week, including Sarah McDonald (third from left), Dr Pierre Qian (fifth from left) and Tony Barry (sixth from left).

The inventors of the medical devices awarded Medical Device Fund grants this week, including University of Sydney PhD students Sarah McDonald (third from left), Dr Pierre Qian (fifth from left) and Tony Barry (sixth from left). 

Mu Catheter

A magic lantern-shaped microwave-emitting catheter that could control medication resistant hypertension was awarded $1.39 million by the NSW Medical Devices Fund.

The device known as a ‘Mu Catheter’ was co-invented by cardiologist Dr Pierre Qian and biomedical engineer Tony Barry, both PhD students with the University of Sydney and employed at Westmead Hospital in Sydney’s west.

This project is jointly owned and being commercialised by both University of Sydney and Western Sydney Local Health District. Dr Qian and Mr Barry will use the funds to further develop their catheter in a series of preclinical in vivo models, which if successful, may be used to treat medication resistant hypertension patients.

Treatment-resistant hypertension is the failure to achieve healthy blood pressure despite simultaneous use of at least three different antihypertensive medications. Patients with medication resistant hypertension have elevated risk of cardiovascular disease and death, and up to a threefold higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and death compared to patients whose hypertension that is well controlled.

“Hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide,” said Dr Qian. “Twenty-eight percent of adults in NSW have hypertension, however up to one in eight patients fail to achieve blood pressure control despite multiple medications.”

The renal (kidney) artery is surrounded by highways of nerves that relay information between the kidneys and cardiovascular and nervous systems. These nerves are hyperactive in many people with difficult-to-control blood pressure, but they can be deactivated using heat.

Dr Qian and Mr Barry designed and built the magic lantern-shaped catheter that emits microwaves from within the renal artery to deactivate the hyperactive renal nerves. So far, lab testing and preliminary trials have shown promise.

“The results so far have been very encouraging and show that it is possible to deactivate the vast majority of the renal nerves without significant injury to the renal artery using this technology,” said Dr Qian.

"The Mu Catheter is based on angioplasty techniques well known to interventionists. It comprises a small microwave radiator deployed into the renal artery over a low-trauma angioplasty wire. The renal artery is - like most larger arteries in the body - prone to spasm in the presence of irritation of the inner wall, and the low-trauma approach over-the-wire avoids renal spasm during insertion. Once positioned in the artery, the wire is withdrawn.

"The radiator is surrounded by a sheath which can expand in the fashion of a magic lantern, to centre the radiator in the renal artery but still allow blood to flow through the artery while the procedure is underway. The sheath is also irrigated to assist in cooling the vessel during the ablation.  

"The Mu Catheter radiates microwaves into the tissues surrounding the renal artery to provide a deep and circumferential ablation to consistently reach most of the renal nerves, while avoiding injury to the renal artery itself which is cooled and protected by blood flow. This is achieved through the Mu Catheter’s unique microwave emitting radiator, and centring mechanism.”

“Clinically available renal artery denervation devices heat and interrupt nerve supply to the renal nerves using an electrical current, but these have a limited depth of penetration and can’t be applied around the total circumference of the renal artery without injuring the artery wall,” explained Mr Barry. “These devices produce consistent spasm to the artery intra-operatively, inconsistent denervation and often have limited clinical efficacy.”

Dr Qian’s supervisor is Associate Professor Stuart Thomas, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Sydney Medical School and Director of the Cardiac Laboratories at Westmead Hospital, and Dr Aravinda Thiagalingam from Westmead Clinical School. Mr Barry’s supervisor is Professor Alistair McEwan from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies.


University of Sydney PhD student Sarah McDonald has been awarded $1.47 million by the NSW Medical Devices Fund to further develop a real-time monitoring pregnancy patch with potential to help cut rates of unnecessary interventions, and where needed, intervene earlier to avoid complications.

Known as ‘Oli™’ the patch Ms. McDonald says it “moves beyond traditional measures of contractions and fetal heart rate by allowing women to follow their own pregnancy and labor timelines, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Ms McDonald, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney’s medical school and Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, is testing the proof-of-concept patch with pregnant women with the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital's Women and Babies team and has collected  data from around 75 women to date.

Ms McDonald told Fairfax Media that traditonal device for measuring contractions and fetal heart rate “are the most uncomfortable things on the planet. For me as a mother, it added to the anxiety of the experience. I was frustrated because I knew we could do better with better technology in a less invasive way. Instead of just looking at contraction frequencies and fetal heart rate, we want to determine the quality of pregnancy and labour itself,” she said. 

Ms McDonald was not able to disclose what measures her team were using while the device was under development. 

The wireless patch would also allow women in labour to shower, have a bath and walk around, comforts current technology does not allow. 

While Oli had the potential to benefit all women in labour, a second model is designed to monitor women with high-risk pregnancies in their final trimester.

Ms McDonald’s PhD supervisors are Professor Jon Hyett from the Central Clinical School and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Dr Graham  Brooker from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies and Dr Hala Phipps, Clinical Senior Lecturer in the Sydney Nursing School. 

Dan Gaffney

Media & PR Adviser (Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy)

Jennifer Peterson-Ward

Media and PR Adviser (Engineering and IT)

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