Seed Phase Teams

SMARTprobe: Enabling better breast cancer diagnosis


  • Breast cancer is the 2nd most commonly diagnosed cancer in women
  • 1 in 9 women will develop breast cancer in the course of their lifetime
  • Ireland ranked 4th highest mortality rate in Europe
  • Incidence rate of breast cancer is on the increase
  • Approximately 3000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed last year
  • No real-time diagnosis available so all biopsies go the laboratory even though approximately 80% are benign
  • 8 – 10 day wait for patient diagnosis
  • Significant distress & anxiety for patient & families waiting for results

Solution SMARTProbe will provide real-time point of care enhancement of breast cancer diagnosis.

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Hydrobloc: Reducing the burden of chronic pain

Challenge It is estimated that 8 % of the European population suffer from Neuropathic Pain with over 300,000 suffers in Ireland. Diseases that have a high incidence of chronic neuropathic pain include Multiple Sclerosis (46%), Cancer (66%) and Arthritis (33%).  Sadly, Chronic neuropathic pain sufferers are a lesser-heard voice within the health service, but live with constant pain, which has a significant personal and societal impact.  Current treatments for chronic neuropathic pain include analgesic medications and nerve block injectables. Injectable treatments are painful and need to be repeated every three months for adequate pain relief. The effects of the injectable diminish over time, with the patient often experiencing severe intermittent pain between treatments. Given the personal, family and societal costs of chronic neuropathic pain, there is an urgent need for a disruptive non medication-based therapy.

Solution A multidisciplined team at National University of Galway are developing HydroBloc, novel hydrogel solution for Chronic Neuropathic Pain. An ideal solution would provide long-term pain relief for patients with neuropathic pain which is drug free without the severe side effects of prescription medications. HydoBloc is that solution. 

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SepTec: Reducing the burden of Sepsis

Challenge Sepsis is a global epidemic. With an estimated 30 million cases each year worldwide, sepsis causes 1 death every 3- 4 seconds. While a patient with sepsis is around 5 times more likely to die than a patient who has suffered a heart attack or stroke, sepsis is one of the most common, least-recognized illnesses in both the developed and developing world. Through engagement with key stakeholders the specific challenges identified for sepsis patients are:

  • Sepsis is not recognised, detected and diagnosed early enough. Sepsis screening is disconnected from diagnosis and treatment because current clinical diagnosis using Blood Culture requires a centralised lab, is too slow and lacks accuracy (55-65%) – leading to antibiotic overuse, antimicrobial resistance and increased mortality risk;
  • Time is critical: every hour’s delay in optimum antibiotic treatment increases mortality risk by 8%, Broad-spectrum antibiotics have a 30% failure rate.

Delayed sepsis diagnosis results in patient mortality, morbidity and excess health care costs:

  • Most expensive condition to treat – approximately $32.5bn each year in the US and EU combined;
  • Number one hospital expense accounting for ~30% of all hospital deaths;
  • Rapid sepsis diagnosis is needed greatest in ICU where Sepsis is fatal for 30-40% of patients;
  • Approximately 60% of Sepsis episodes are diagnosed in the ED (~ 3.9m cases in the US).

Solution SepTec addresses major Societal Challenges in global health, mortality, demographic change and wellbeing.  By addressing the critical issues of time and accuracy of sepsis diagnosis, SepTec will help clinicians with diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of sepsis reducing mortality rates, hospital stays, recovery times and increase survival rates.  It combines screening and pathogen detection in one compact, near-patient instrument that will detect Sepsis causing bacteria in whole blood within 15 minutes. Not only will SepTec improve patient outcomes, it will reduce the inappropriate use of antibiotics that leads to the proliferation of antibiotic resistant pathogens. By being near-patient SepTec will reduce the need for large, high-cost and expert intensive labs and puts timely decision-making in the hands of clinicians.  SepTec’s low-cost, ease-of-use and portability will also provide new access to Sepsis testing in low-income countries who carry the biggest burden of Sepsis, yet where large labs, complex technology and blood-culture testing are not realistic or viable.

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Harnessing gene editing to treat rare diseases such as EB

Challenge Recessive Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa (RDEB) is a rare genetic skin fragility and blistering disorder in which no curative treatment currently exists with palliative care only in use.

Solution Our proposed solution is to develop a gene editing curative treatment that can be applied topically to wound sites of RDEB patients. This therapeutic approach will enable the permanent correction of the underlying mutations that give rise to RDEB, in a non-invasive manner.

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PEAR: Enabling Next Generation Biological Imaging

Challenge Super-resolution microscopy offers exciting opportunities to researchers in the life sciences, enhancing our understanding of the inner workings of cells including cancer cell growth and thus enables the development of new therapies. Biologists require imaging at spatial resolutions substantially below 60 nm allowing for the understanding of molecular interactions. Despite the pressing need, it is currently not possible to visualize individual molecules as they dynamically interact. The reason is that optical visualisation of subcellular interactions, such as the effect of drugs on cells, is limited by the diffraction limit. In addition, current super-resolution technologies which have been awarded the Nobel Prize in 2014 are limited because they are inherently sequential in nature (e.g. need to scan across the entire sample). This results in a limited signal to noise ratio and a slow, multi-step acquisition of images, making fast frame rates difficult to achieve. 

Solution The here presented novel methodology named “Plasmonic Electronically Addressable super-Resolution” (PEAR) is a highly innovative imaging solution that goes beyond the current state of the art, enabling super-fast real-time nanoscale optical microscopy. The IP protected method achieves imaging far beyond the diffraction limit with an optical chip which consists of addressable plasmonic elements. Imaging is achieved by delivering timed, modulated electrical currents to the nanoscale elements which selectively tunes the elements in and out of the plasmonic resonance condition. The photonic chip, which is at the heart of PEAR, contains an electronically addressable array of such elements. These pixels can then be switched from "on-resonance" to "off-resonance" via the modulated current. This results in appreciable changes of the electric near-field strength above the pixels, which can be detected in parallel via optical heterodyne detection. Because of the known nano-localised addressability of this modulation, a dedicated computer algorithm is capable of extracting the contained additional information as a super-resolution image at very high frame rates. This leads to unprecedented real time imaging of dynamic interactions at the nanoscale. PEAR is a disruptive, nanotechnology powered imaging solution which enables super-fast, real-time nanoscale optical microscopy (nanoscopy) resulting in:

  • unravelling of pathogen infectious mechanisms,
  • leading to improved drug development and delivery,
  • resulting in new breakthrough therapies.

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Minimising hospital waiting-lists and optimising healthcare capacity

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