Monash’s medical engineering delivering real outcomes

The Monash Institute of Medical Engineering (MIME) is delivering real medical breakthroughs and partnerships between researchers, hospitals and the wider industry.

MIME links Monash University faculties and hospitals through the collaborative Institute of Medical Engineering—the intersection where ideas can become actual medical applications.

The premise is simple. Researchers visit the health services associated with Monash Health and meet with experts in their fields to determine present clinical needs. Solutions for these needs are developed and pitched to MIME. After much scrutiny, including interviews and a thorough investigation of these pitches, the best are selected by MIME and guided through the process of getting grants, attracting industry partnerships and given all the support they need to get the idea out to clinic.

Getting medical breakthroughs from bench to bedside

Professor Laurence Meagher is MIME’s Deputy Director and Director of Research. He said the key platform for the program was translational research, designed to deliver actual clinical technologies.

“We’re looking more for translational funding, rather than basic research funding. Because this is not meant to be basic research, there’s lots of that going on. MIME drives projects that will deliver an outcome,” he said.

Achieving this relies heavily on MIME researchers working with hospital staff to identify clinical needs and the participation of companies to help ideas come to fruition.

“We want these technologies to get out as much as possible to the clinic. Obviously we need to do that in partnership, normally with companies. That’s a big part of what we do.”

“We go through an exhaustive selection process. We typically we get around 50 or so actual applications so we filter them to about 15 or so.

The applications that make it through this process are then assisted by MIME in seeking out funding from various sources.

“We follow up with (the researchers) later on to see how they are going. We make sure they understand that any patent protections are put in place for inventions, and help them if need be to craft funding applications that might go in front of companies or other granting bodies,” Professor Meagher said.

In-house project delivering ‘sight’ to the blind

You don’t need to look too far to see the benefits of these collaborations. The Monash Vision Group is currently in the animal testing stage of a direct-to-brain bionic vision device called Gennaris, in partnership with Melbourne companies Grey Innovation and MiniFab.

Professor Meagher said the early results are encouraging and human trials are expected to begin soon.

“The device itself is for people that can’t use a retinal device,” said Professor Meagher.

“There’s a few ways of approaching a solution to help people see, one of them is to tap into the optic nerve if it is still functioning. The other is to put a device at the retina, then light landing on the device can be transferred to electrical signals.

“These approaches only work if you’ve got a functioning optical nerve and a functioning retina. But many people don’t have these, and they need another type of device. This is why we developed Gennaris.

Gennaris is a pair of glasses with a camera on them. The images from the camera are processed and converted into electrical signals. Those electrical signals are transmitted to the visual cortex of the brain via microelectrodes on implanted electronic tiles.

“Essentially, this produces flashes of light in a pattern that the brain learns to interpret as an image, allowing the person to “see”.”

Victoria set to attract more investment and talent as a result of these collaborations

More and more companies are popping up that are working with university and hospital researchers and experts to fast-track medical technological breakthroughs.

Professor Meagher says these emergences are helping to make Victoria a “hotbed of medical talent”, both inside and outside of medical fields. This is set to ramp up another level when the Victorian Heart Hospital is opened at Monash campus.

“That really is a very exciting venture that is highly attractive to medical experts and investors outside of Australia.”

“It is a significant thing. It will pull talent into Victoria as a result of having a dedicated heart hospital.”