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The Plaster That Could Change Lives


A new invention that could dramatically change the lives of millions of people administering medication at home, has received investment worth £120,000 from NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) – the organisation that nurtures UK creativity and innovation.

A plaster that can be worn on the skin, containing a tiny pump, could soon be improving the quality of life for those on fertility treatments, or diabetics needing regular insulin.

The pioneering technology is being developed by Swansea-based, Starbridge Systems. They believe their product has huge potential for diabetes care. It comes as diabetes is increasing at epidemic rates across the western world. This next generation micro-pump enables patients to carry and receive a three-day supply of insulin inconspicuously on any part of their body.

“It will release diabetics from the need to use syringes and needles, enabling them to continuously infuse insulin. They’ll be able to lead a normal life!” says Joseph Cefai, chief executive of Starbridge Systems.

The technology has been hailed as “one of the most exciting high-tech, cutting-edge projects to have emerged in Wales in recent years” by Welsh First Minister, Rhodri Morgan. Starbridge Systems has already won the 2002 SMART Wales competition for its micro-fluidic technologies.

The new NESTA award will enable the company to develop a prototype of the device, which they hope could be helping diabetics within the next five years. The illness ranks as the fourth most expensive. In Wales alone, the NHS bill for dealing with issues around diabetes was £255 million in 1999 – or £8 per second.

Current insulin pumps are worn like a pager on a belt, delivering insulin through a catheter into the skin. But they are bulky and the tubing can prove cumbersome, or even get blocked.

Joseph says: “Not only will the pump be small, cheap and effective, it will also be simple to use. This will be particularly beneficial to people who have developed diabetes in later years – those who are old or have poor sight or mobility. And because the pump will allow them to accurately control their insulin doses, they will be able to get back to normal life, eating, sleeping and exercising as they wish.”

Mark White, Director of Invention and Innovation, at NESTA, said: “This invention has the potential to change people’s lives. It’s typical of the kind of innovation that NESTA is keen to nurture and support across the UK.”

Hannah Daws | alfa
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