Read our latest eMag
Read Now

Portsmouth: University in pioneering airway innovation

By Dan Teuton
17 November 2020

University of Portsmouth researchers are helping to develop an innovative portable and lightweight suction device for clearing blocked airways in emergency and chronic conditions.

The researchers are working with Bristol-based Airway Medical to develop the device, which has the potential to make current technology obsolete.

Last week, Airway Medical announced it had been awarded funding from Innovate UK, which is investing up to £191 million to fund both single and collaborative research and development projects via the Sustainable Innovation Fund over the next two years. The aim of these competitions is to help all sectors of the UK rebuild after the effects of COVID-19.

The Airway Medical Suction Unit (AMSU™) is the size of a sports bottle and unlike current emergency suction systems; it does not require batteries or electricity to work; is 90% cheaper and 95% smaller and lighter than current systems; and has no maintenance issues. It does all of this while still meeting the same international standards of power-generated suction systems.

The device will also embed graphene-based technology to provide 100% protection against viruses or bacteria, such as Covid-19. This part of the project is in collaboration with Chelmsford-based company Versarien.

Typical scenarios of usage can be:

  • In a Covid-19 situation, the patient requires to have their airways cleared of sputum on a regular basis to prevent ingress into the lungs where it can harden and lead to the patient being admitted to ICU.
  • Paramedics may have to clear the airways of individuals who have had a seizure or have undergone a cardiac arrest.
  • In a care home environment, airway clearance may be used to support someone with a neurological illness such as Motor Neurone Disease, where the normal levels of salvia produced cannot be swallowed by the patient, or to remove food that has become lodged in the airway and is causing chocking.

University researchers Dr Andrea Bucchi, Dr Martino Pani, Afshin Anssari-Benam and research associate George Bulac will be optimising the performance of the device to fulfil the stringent medical requirements in terms of volume flow rate and suction pressure. They will test different designs of the device that they will rapid prototype using the University’s 3D printing facilities.

Dr Andrea Bucchi, senior lecturer in Engineering Sciences, said: “When Airway approached us with the idea of the AMSU device in early April, during the first part of the lockdown period, we could immediately see the huge difference it could make. We're very excited to bring our expertise to the project and the significant funding from Innovate UK will allow us to develop the concept further to provide real-world benefit to the community.”

The University of Portsmouth is also supporting the AMSU project through the SIGHT (Supporting Innovation and Growth in Healthcare Technologies) programme, a European Regional Development Fund business support project led by the University in conjunction with the Wessex CRN and Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust. SIGHT provided grant funding to help Airway Medical protect its intellectual property, as well as providing support and feedback on clinical requirements and potential trials from colleagues in the Portsmouth Technologies Trials Unit, a collaboration between the University and Portsmouth University Hospitals NHS Trust.

David Lubega, collaboration manager in Research and Innovation Services at University of Portsmouth, said: “We are extremely proud to be working with Airway Medical on this exciting and innovative project. We have a team of highly skilled research scientists and engineers who will be working collaboratively with Airway Medical helping to take their product all the way from early stage design through to product launch in 2021.”

Simon Hall from Airway Medical explains how the device works.