Derby’s iTrend dialysis project named among Nation’s Lifesavers

16 May 2019

A ‘synthetic human cardiovascular system’ created in Derby and nicknamed ‘Steve’ has been selected as one of the UK’s pioneering university research programmes which can help improve the nation's health.

The iTrend Project (Intelligent Technologies for Renal Dialysis) is a multi-disciplinary collaboration involving the University of Derby, the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine and the Royal Derby Hospital. Its aim is to improve long-term outcomes for patients with end-stage renal failure receiving dialysis treatment.

The project has been named today by Universities UK’s #MadeAtUni campaign as one of the Nation’s Lifesavers – the top 100 individuals or groups based in universities whose work is saving lives and making a life-changing difference to our health and wellbeing. A link to the project's MadeAtUni site can be found here.

iTrend has been backed by a rolling research grant from the MStart Trust, founded by Mel Morris CBE, the owner and Chairman of Derby County Football Club. He brought together Professor Paul Stewart, Research Chair in Intelligent Systems at the University of Derby, and kidney consultants Professor Maarten Taal and Dr Nick Selby, of the Royal Derby Hospital and the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine, to research the development of personalised dialysis treatment.
Dialysis removes excess fluid and toxins which cannot be excreted by patients because their kidneys are not functioning properly. Haemodialysis – effectively filtering the blood – can mean patients having to undergo the treatment at hospital for up to four hours, a minimum of three times each week. However, haemodialysis can cause a drop in blood pressure and have negative effects on heart function.

‘Steve’ was built by Professor Stewart and his team at the University of Derby and the component parts of ‘Steve’ replicate the heart, arteries and veins, as well as a fistula as an access point to connect lines from a dialysis machine.
This experimental rig is being used to simulate the changes in blood pressure and heart function that happen during dialysis. ‘Steve’ has also been used to develop a novel, non-invasive, continuous and accurate means of monitoring blood pressure during dialysis without the needs for a conventional blood pressure cuff.
Using real-time data from a long-term study of 50 renal dialysis patients at the Royal Derby Hospital, analysis by team member Professor Jill Stewart has led to the identification of physiological ‘fingerprints’ which help to ‘personalise’ the treatment. The team is now applying for a patient-study approval to starting testing the developed algorithms and technology. 
Professor Paul Stewart said: “It is a fantastic honour for all involved in the iTrend project to feature as one of the Nation’s Lifesavers. The project is a really good example of interdisciplinary research. It’s been a refreshing experience bringing together engineering and medical expertise to address the challenges in kidney dialysis. We’re very grateful for the support we have received from the MStart Trust, which has made this exciting collaboration with the potential to benefit millions of people possible.”
Professor Maarten Taal said: “The ultimate goal of iTrend is to develop some technology that will greatly enhance our ability to monitor patients on dialysis, but also create a feedback system that will help us to act before patients’ blood pressure and cardiac function decreases. This will improve stability during dialysis, which we think will improve patients’ quality of life and also their survival.”
Professor Kathryn Mitchell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby, added: “It is wonderful to have such vitally important research recognised in this way. The ingenuity and value of the work our academics do at our universities is can be overlooked because we almost take for granted the advances being made at such a rapid rate in areas like medicine. iTrend is a superb example of the collaboration that exists to achieve the common goal of improving health outcomes for people suffering from very serious illness.”
Professor Dame Janet Beer, President Universities UK, said: “When people think of lifesavers they tend to focus on the dedication and skill of our doctors, nurses, carers and paramedics – many of whom are trained at universities. Every day, up and down the country, universities are also working on innovations to transform and save lives. Research taking place in universities is finding solutions to so many of the health and wellbeing issues we care about and the causes that matter.
“By proudly working in partnership with charities, the NHS and healthcare organisations, universities are responsible for some of our biggest health breakthroughs and in revolutionising the delivery of care. This campaign is a chance to bring to life the wonderful and often unexpected work going on every day in our universities and to celebrate some of the people working to make a life-changing difference to the nation.”
Research shows the public are proud of UK universities  but have little understanding of the benefits they bring, with most not being aware that UK academics are behind many of the discoveries that save lives and keep us healthy. The MadeAtUni campaign gives the public an insight into some of this work and celebrates those who made it happen.
More information on the campaign can be found on the dedicated website:

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