Using research on fluid flow (rheology) for an inventive medical device

Research based on haemorheological technology has led to the invention, trialling, adoption and commercialisation of technology for the early detection of abnormal blood clots.

The development of this technology was stimulated by an unmet clinical need for improved detection of abnormal clotting responses to therapy or disease. The research has delivered significant health, economic and public engagement impacts, including:

  • New diagnostic technology developed and trialled with patients at NHS Hospitals, with a dedicated NHS hospital-based unit established for this purpose.
  • Two new companies created based on IP related to this invention, a third company has relocated to exploit it, jobs have been created and investment has been secured, new products have been developed and sold, and licensing revenues generated
  • Work has been adopted as an exemplar of ‘Excellence with Impact’ by RCUK; exhibited at the Science Museum London and Smithsonian Washington; and included in TV documentaries broadcast on Channel 4 and the Smithsonian Channel, USA.

Our key research, based on the invention of rheometric techniques for the characterisation of gel microstructure and complex fluids, has led to a new diagnostic medical technology to be developed.

Our invention, trialling, adoption and commercialisation of technology for the early detection of abnormal blood clots has been conducted under awards from EPSRC, Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, NIHR and NISCHR.

This technology exploits our discovery of a new functional biomarker for abnormal clot structure formation in blood. The significance of this is:

  • No previous diagnostic test or clot monitoring technique has been able to detect incipient clot formation in samples of whole blood and thus our new test provides the earliest possible indication of altered or abnormal clot structure.
  • No previous test has been able to quantify abnormal clot structure directly in whole blood.

For the first time, using this new test, pathologically or therapeutically induced changes in clot structure can be measured on samples of whole blood in near-patient tests which are conducted in operating theatres, treatment rooms and patient wards.

This new medical technology is being used in trials at two NHS Hospitals as part of a dedicated, £1.5 million NISCHR-funded NHS hospital-based Haemostasis Biomedical Research Unit.

The patient trials based on this technique began in 2011. The technique has been adopted internationally. For example, the School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania use the technique in studies of heparin-induced thrombocytopaenia.

The technique helped a medical device company (Haemair Ltd) to win an IChemE Industry Award for Innovation and Excellence in 2008. Commercialisation of the research began in 2005 with the establishment of an IPR portfolio which has since resulted in:

  • The relocation of one company (Haemair Ltd) to Swansea University, which has led to the introduction and sales of two new, previously unavailable commercial medical device technology products and the establishment of two further companies Haemometrics Ltd and Haemaflow Ltd) who use Swansea's haemorheological research.
  • To date, 17 highly skilled jobs have directly resulted from this activity, within three companies and the NHS.

Commercialisation of the clot detection technology is being accelerated under a Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship award to Professor Rhodri Williams (2012-2013).

Our research has raised public awareness of Engineering research, its commercial development and its healthcare applications. The present case study has been selected by the RCUK as an Excellence with Impact case study which highlights research based on fostering partnerships with business and industry to achieve economic and societal impact. 

Our research features in exhibitions in 2013 at the Smithsonian (Washington) and the Science Museum, London (with 5,208 visitors to this exhibit between 19-21 February 2013) and is featured in two television documentaries on medical device technology. The first of these, How to Build a Bionic Man, was broadcast on Channel 4 at 9pm on 07/02/2013 (the second will be broadcast in 2013 on the Discovery Channel, USA).