May 22 2024 Posted: 09:00 IST

Prof Martin O’Halloran, University of Galway and Cúram

You work on lots of different projects – what is the general theme?

My research is very much needs led. It’s about solving problems in the clinic. I spend time with doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers and patients and looking at how things work. Then we do research to solve the kinds of issues they are facing and to improve efficiencies.

Can you give us some examples?

One is about hair loss during chemotherapy, which can be really upsetting and traumatic for patients. We developed a technology that applies compression to the scalp so that the cancer drugs don’t access the fast-growing hair follicles and damage them. It’s simple science but it’s important. That technology has been spun out into a company and is in trials at the moment.

I am also working on a European Research Council-funded project on osteoarthritis, where the challenge is that patients are living for decades with chronic pain. Medications can be injected into a joint – in this case, the knee – but they only relieve the pain for a few months. So we are developing a hydrogel that can be injected into the knee where it delivers a pain blocker slowly over time, so it is both effective and longer lasting.

What’s the key to spotting those kinds of solutions to problems?

You have to spend time with people, ask questions and listen. It’s like learning a language. If I want to learn French, a good place to do that is in France. So our Translational Medical Device Lab is embedded in University College Hospital Galway and co-located with the HRB Clinical Research Facility. This means I am surrounded by people experiencing the really interesting problems that need to be solved.

How did you come to do this kind of research?

My background is in electronic engineering. Then I did my PhD in medical devices and I could see the frustrations that medical researchers were facing getting their technologies into the clinic. So I trained in clinical trials and built up the medical device research based in Cúram and the School of Medicine in Galway. I am also executive director of the BioInnovate Ireland programme, which supports people to spend time with clinical teams and see new innovations that can then be brought forward for investment.

What would you like people to know about medical innovation?

I think some of the biggest challenges in medicine are not really technical; the issue is more around defining the problem. If you talk to a cancer surgeon, they will likely say they want to look the patient in eye and tell them they are cancer free. If you talk to the patient, yes, cancer free would be great, but maybe they are just as concerned with relief from pain, or sleep issues that mean they struggle more during the day. These are problems that need attention too.

How important is the patient voice in what you do?

It’s huge. Morally and ethically, we have a responsibility to have the patient voice heard. And I think what people don’t see sometimes is how well solutions could work economically too. When we were looking at the issue of hair loss, we spoke with patients who were spending a fortune on wigs. But people weren’t asking them about that cost to them.

And how do you take a break from work?

We have a four-year-old who keeps us very busy. Also my parents have a farm in the west of Ireland and when I get the chance I love to work on it.


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