Healthy Living: Hospital innovations point way to the future

Dr Mark McAlindon with the pill cam at Thornbury Hospital.
Dr Mark McAlindon with the pill cam at Thornbury Hospital.
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A camera the size of a pill, a syringe which helps pinpoint where an epileptic fit begins and a home test for HIV sound like they’d be at the top of any doctor’s wish list.

But all these innovations and more are already helping patients after being developed by Sheffield clinicians - and three inventions have now scored success at the region’s top medical awards ceremony.

The tiny pill camera, a new finger-prick test to detect serious blood-borne viruses, and a prescribing aid to reduce blunders caused by illegible writing were singled out from hundreds of entries to be named as winners at the Yorkshire and Humber Medipex NHS Innovation Awards 2013.

The awards scheme highlights projects which have the potential to improve patient care.

A team led by Dr Helena Ellam and Prof Goura Kudesia, from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals’ laboratories, picked up the Medical Devices and Diagnostics prize for the new blood screening method, which looks for highly infectious but easily treatable diseases among high-risk communities.

They designed a finger-prick test which can help diagnose HIV and Hepatitis B and C, as well as a saliva sampling kit to screen for HIV at home.

Both tests were developed to be processed on the same equipment as routine blood samples, while the oral fluid test could be requested online, helping to prevent the disease spreading.

Meanwhile, Dr Mark McAlindon and the gastroenterology team from the Royal Hallamshire Hospital were the first centre in the UK to start using vitamin-pill sized cameras to take pictures of the gut to diagnose tumours and internal bleeding.

The technique, known as capsule endoscopy, was named winner in the Secondary Care category, and is more comfortable for patients, as it avoids the need for an instrument to be passed through the body.

Live images are transmitted from the camera to a data recorder as the capsule travels through the patient’s body.

The prescription aid, for iPads and iPhones, was designed by consultant Dr Nigel Humphrys at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, and aims to prevent medication errors triggered by poor handwriting.

Elsewhere at the Royal Hallamshire, doctors have developed a device which helps them to identify the exact area in the brain where debilitating epileptic fits begin - which it is hoped will reduce the need for invasive investigations.

The adjustable syringe guard helps staff to accurately inject a radioactive dye into a patient’s body at the end of a fit.

The dye - which must be given within 20 seconds of a seizure - traces circulation in the brain, helping to locate areas of abnormal blood flow using a scan.

Philip Hillel, a consultant healthcare scientist from the hospital’s medical physics department, said: “Split-seconds make all the difference when a patient is having an epileptic fit, and giving patients who are often shaking and moving the precise amounts of a radioactive dye within the required 20 seconds is virtually impossible with a normal syringe.

“Thanks to this device, we have improved the accuracy of the test and ensured the patient does not get given more radiation doses than necessary.

“When looked at alongside other tests, the 3D images produced from this scan can confirm the exact area in the brain where abnormal activity begins, sometimes without the need for other highly invasive investigations which could involve potential damage to parts of the brain.”

Sir Andrew Cash, chief executive at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I am delighted that we have been named as winners. Sheffield has a proud history of pioneering new treatments to benefit patients, so it’s a privilege for these achievements to be recognised.”

Images can be processed in seconds

3D lab spots tumour growth sooner

A hi-tech 3D imaging lab which helps Sheffield radiologists assess the growth of tumours earlier was also shortlisted for a Medipex award.

The lab, at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, uses some of the most advanced techniques in the world to predict the outcome of heart disease, dementia and cancer.

Special 3D software is used which allows clinicians to identify exactly how much bigger a tumour has grown.

Doctors also have the ability to compare different scans without having to perform complex calculations, which can be vital in spotting aggressive cancers sooner - as even a slight difference of position between how a patient is lying can affect tumour growth measurements.

Radiologists can process the images in just seconds, compared with other methods which can take between 40 minutes and an hour to produce results.

The lab is the only one of its kind in the UK to have integrated the technology into daily medical practice.

Clinical scientist Peter Metherall said: “The exceptionally high quality results produced through the 3D software allow clinicians to precisely identify how much bigger a tumour has grown and see exactly where that growth has occurred. This adds important information to guide the best treatment for the patient.”

A new neck collar for patients living with motor neurone disease competed for a Medipex prize, too.

The collar - designed in Sheffield as part of a project called Head Up - supports people with neck weakness, a symptom of the progressive neurological disease.

Current collars can cause pain and discomfort, as well as making it difficult for patients to speak clearly.

The new design is modelled on a simple snood, providing more lightweight support.