£7.2M cross border collaborative research centre to improve cardiovascular care

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Professor Ian Megson

A £7.2M cross-border centre of research excellence in cardiovascular medicine is set to benefit cardiac care in the Highlands and Islands.

The Eastern Corridor Medical Engineering Centre (ECME) - which is being led by Ulster University and includes the University of the Highlands and Islands - will develop new models of care, smart wearable technologies and improved patient monitoring systems. This project is being awarded funding by the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the SEUPB.

The cross border centre of research excellence within the field of cardiovascular medicine with partners in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Scotland was launched earlier this month at Ulster University.

Cardiovascular (heart and circulatory) disease causes more than a quarter (26 per cent) of all deaths in the UK; that’s nearly 160,000 deaths each year - an average of 435 people each day or one death every three minutes.

ECME will see researchers from academia and industry collaborate with partners in the health and social care system to create better models of heart disease care and develop new medical grade wearables and remote monitoring systems to improve clinical outcomes and patient experience.

Innovative medical technology has the potential to alleviate some of the current pressures facing our healthcare system. As waiting lists grow and the demand for hospital beds increases, medical technologies such as smart wearables, user-ready sensor technology and patient monitoring systems can improve diagnostics and patient outcomes and enable patients to live independently.

The centre will develop a regional cardiac big data database, enhance user-ready sensor technology, improve smart wearables, reduce the complexity and cumbersomeness of point of care diagnostics, and improve smart, clinically relevant patient monitoring in assisted living and rehabilitation environments. It will also develop new prototype technologies working closely with industry and health care professionals to develop new products and novel intellectual property which will lead to economic impact across the region. 

Gina McIntyre, CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body said: “This is a project which has the potential to positively transform the lives of thousands of people and their families across Northern Ireland, the border region of Ireland and Western Scotland.

“By increasing the levels of cross-border Research and Innovation within the Health and Life Sciences sector, there is the opportunity to create a strong economic impact, and this is one of the core objectives of the INTERREG VA Programme. The project has great potential and will have a highly significant impact upon how cardiovascular disease is treated on a cross-border basis,” she continued.

Professor Ian Megson, Head of the Division of Health Research at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: “This doctoral training programme provides the university with an excellent opportunity to work with engineers, biomedical researchers and clinicians from across Ireland to develop and evaluate state-of-the art solutions to improve cardiac healthcare both in the region and the global arena.

“A total of five students and a postdoctoral researcher will join our health research team and engage with a number of projects relating to cardiac rehabilitation, assisted living, smart wearable devices, point of care testing and identification of new biomarkers to help detect heart disease. This is only one part of the training programme, which will involve 23 PhD students from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland with the single intention of improving cardiac healthcare.”

The centre received €8.2M (£7.2M) funding from the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). Match-funding for the project has been provided by the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation in Ireland.

ECME is a cross border partnership between Ulster University, Southern Health and Social Care Trust Cardiac Research Unit, Dundalk Institute of Technology, Dublin City University, University College Dublin and the University of Highlands and Islands.