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Lessons from treating COVID-19 patients could save many more lives

Researchers in Nottingham have received £620,000 of national funding for an innovation that could save the lives of patients being treated in critical care or other hospital settings.

The work could save the lives of patients being treated in critical care and other hospital settings (Stock image)

From this month, clinicians at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH) will be working closely with experts in medical devices at Nottingham Trent University to develop a new type of chest drain valve, which should improve safety for NHS patients. It is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

Chest drains are tubes inserted into patients’ chest cavities to help them breath by draining away fluids such as water, blood and pus. They are used with people following trauma, surgery or to relieve the symptoms of infection.

However, it is thought that around seven per cent of chest drains become trapped or dislodged, either partially or entirely – potentially with very serious consequences for patients.

Dr Martin Beed, Consultant in intensive care and anaesthesia at NUH and Honorary Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham, is leading the research project into a new type of “breakaway” chest drain valve with Professor Philip Breedon, Professor of Smart Technologies at Nottingham Trent University’s (NTU’s) School of Science and Technology.

He explains: “When chest drains become dislodged, inserting another is a major procedure; it is uncomfortable, painful and time-consuming for our patients.

“Although we started this project before COVID-19, the pandemic brought home how useful our new innovation might be. “

In intensive care, clinicians needed to ventilate patients with COVID-19. But in some cases, due the damage to their lungs, delivering treatment meant that healthcare professionals had to turn patients and nurse them face down in the bed.

Dr Beed added: “Doing this with a patient who is connected to medical tubes in their chest is a difficult procedure, with a risk of the tubes becoming dislodged. So our aim is to either disconnect a tube safely prior to turning or moving the patient – or, if the line attached to the chest drain came under tension and accidentally became disconnected - our device would break away at a fixed point of tension. This would leave the patient with a safe, one-way valve.

“This would mean air – or fluids – could exit the patient but not re-enter their body. Our intention is to develop a device that will improve patient safety, as chest drains are commonly used in thoracic surgery, intensive care, respiratory medicine, and in A&E after trauma across the NHS.”

Professor Philip Breedon said: “I have had the pleasure of working with Dr Beed in relation to the design and development of the chest drain valve for several years now.

“This research and development project provides a great opportunity to work with a multidisciplinary team on an innovative chest drain valve device that could have a significant and positive impact for patients, the NHS and the global chest drain market.

“The valve has been developed within the medical engineering design research group at NTU which works closely with a wide range of healthcare professionals, patient groups, and healthcare companies whose interests focus on medical engineering design.”

Professor Breedon added: “We are experienced in delivering a wide range of clinical and surgical projects including producing design prototypes utilising the latest design and simulation software and 3D printing techniques. The group also works closely with the Medical Technologies Innovation Facility (MTIF) and the Health and Allied Professions Centre (HAP) at NTU.”

The breakaway chest drain valve could prove particularly useful for patients in some clinical scenarios. The device could help clinicians take a patient for a CT scan - for instance - by deliberately disconnecting them from the chest drain via the valve during the scan, then reconnecting them immediately afterwards.

When fully developed, using the new breakaway valve could also offer a safer way of moving critical care patients, for example during transfer by ambulance.

Development of the breakaway chest drain valve in Nottingham will take around three years. The project is funded with a £620,000 grant from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) i4i Invention for Innovation programme Product Development Awards

The prototype valve will undergo extensive testing and development at Nottingham Trent University’s medical device engineering labs before entering clinical trials with patients.

The product will be developed with input from medical device experts at the Centre for Healthcare Equipment & Technology Adoption (CHEATA), which is part of Clinical Engineering at NUH, and draw on expertise in human anatomy from academics at the University of Nottingham.

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Dave Rogers, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8782, or via email.

    About Research & Innovation at Nottingham University Hospitals

    Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust is one of the biggest and busiest acute hospitals in England, employing over 16,000 staff. We provide care to over 2.5 million residents of Nottingham and its surrounding communities and specialist services to a further 3-4 million people from neighbouring counties.

    We have national and international reputations for specialist services such as stroke, renal, spinal, breast, neurosciences, cancer services and trauma.

    We are one of the most research-active Trusts in the country with world-leading clinical research delivered across our hospitals and through our NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre, which is translating research discoveries into new treatments for common diseases including asthma and arthritis. Central to our research is our expertise in Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

    To find out more about our hospitals, please visit our website

    You can also follow @ResearchNUH on Twitter.

    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

    NTU was awarded The Times and The Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2023 and ranked second best university in the UK in the Uni Compare Top 100 rankings (2021/2022). It was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards), University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with approximately 40,000 students and more than 4,400 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 7,000 and an NTU community representing over 160 countries.

    Since 2000, NTU has invested £570 million in tools, technology, buildings and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2021 UCAS UG acceptance data). It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was the first UK university to sign the Social Mobility Pledge.

    NTU is ranked 2nd most sustainable university in the world in the 2022 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

    About the NIHR

    The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:
    · Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social
    · Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to
    translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
    · Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the
    relevance, quality and impact of our research;
    · Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and
    social care challenges;
    · Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a
    cohesive and globally competitive research system;
    · Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest
    people in low and middle income countries.

    The Department of Health and Social Care fund NIHR. Its work in low and middle
    income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.


Lessons from treating COVID-19 patients could save many more lives

Published on 12 May 2023
  • Subject area: Computing, engineering, maths and other technologies
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Science and Technology

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