The technique could improve patient safety and save lives.
At the moment, dosages of strong analgesics, such as opioids, are based on how the patient feels. Determining the precise amount of analgesics passing into the bloodstream is difficult, because the speed at which the medicine is absorbed depends on the patient. For example, a genetic mutation can result in zero absorption of the medicine.
There is currently no simple method of analysing the level of a person’s sensitivity to strong painkillers. The Fedoc project consortium, which is participating in Tekes’ Challenge Finland competition, intends to develop such a method.
Its innovation can be used to measure drug concentrations directly from a blood sample, with no need for slow laboratory tests.
"We are developing an electrochemical meter, which will enable the direct measurement of opioid quantities in an ambulance, for example. In the best-case scenario, the results can be obtained in just a few seconds," says Jari Koskinen, Professor of Material Research at Aalto University.
At the beginning, the project will focus on strong analgesics, i.e. determining blood concentrations of opioids. The aim is to extend the method to other drugs in the future.
The opioid meter speeds up care and treatment. The device can be used to assist in the treatment of drug overdoses, in addition to the administration of pain medication.
"If, for example, patients with overdoses appear at an emergency clinic, their opioid level can be measured straight away," says Eija Kalso, Professor of Pain Research and Management at the University of Helsinki.
Kalso also works as Director of the Multidisciplinary Pain Clinic at the Helsinki University Central Hospital. She explains that opioid overdoses are a major cause of death in hospitals.
"In the United States, 20,000 people die each year due to overdoses of opioids prescribed by physicians. That’s more than in road traffic accidents," says Kalso.
She believes that the method under development by the onsortium will help doctors to determine how much analgesic is safe for each patient.
"The device will improve patient safety. Reliable information on the amount of a drug active in the bloodstream can only be obtained by measuring its levels in the blood," says Kalso.
Medix Biochemica, which specialises in rapid diagnostics, is a private sector representative on the Challenge Finland team and is helping to commercialise the research.
Juuso Juhila, the company's product development manager, says that technologies under development for the identification of small molecules will open up an entirely new area of diagnostics.
"The new method could provide a technological edge over competitors," he says.
Juhila believes that the technology being developed for the project will help Medix Biochemica to expand into international markets.
Koskinen also believes that large markets will open up if the methodology is turned into a product.
"The population is ageing and higher quantities of strong pain medication are being used on a continual basis. The method has a global market worth billions."
Canatu, which makes flexible carbon films for touchscreens, has not been on the Challenge Finland team from the beginning, but is playing an important role in the development of the opioid meter.
"During the competition, we realised that the project needed a company that can create a so-called carbon nanobud material, i.e. a combination of carbon nanomaterials, for the manufacture of the sensor," says Esko Kauppinen, Professor of Technology and Physics at Aalto University.
Erkki Soininen, who is COO of Canatu, appreciates how important the consortium is to the company, since it has provided them with exposure to major players at both national and global level.
“The solutions developed by the consortium are particularly positive for us, since they are based on material and production methods that we have already developed. We can move directly into the production phase at very short notice," says Soininen.
University of Helsinki, HUS
Tekes Challenge Finland competition
In the Challenge Finland competition, researchers have worked on solutions - that are of use to the private sector - to major problems. The companies involved have embraced the most commercially promising ideas and collaborated with the researchers in developing them further.
A total of 33 winning R&D consortia have been selected for the second stage of the competition. These include a total of 98 companies, with their own innovation projects funded by Tekes, and 21 research organisations. In addition, several companies, which are funding or otherwise supporting - and benefiting from - the work of the research organisations, are participating in the consortia without Tekes funding. The projects involved in this two-stage competition have been funded by a total of around EUR 47 million.
The competition, which is partly based on Government key project funding, has enhanced the interaction between research and the private sector, and the commercial exploitation and impact of research results in the creation of innovations.
Read more about the competition and its winners:
Text and video: Kaiku Helsinki