Innovative diabetes research wins prestigious health award

A life-saving approach to controlling blood glucose levels in critical care developed at the University of Canterbury and Christchurch Hospital Department of Intensive Care Medicine has won the Supreme Award at the 2006 New Zealand Health Innovation Awards.

The simple and inexpensive "calculation wheel", developed as part of an ongoing series of final-year mechanical engineering projects and postgraduate research, is revolutionising the care of intensive care patients with stress-induced diabetes. The research behind the device represents the culmination of several years of research in the School of Engineering in collaboration with the Canterbury District Health Board and the University of Otago School of Medicine.

The SPRINT (Specialised Relative Insulin Nutrition Tables) system involves a simple spinning cardboard wheel that tells nurses quickly and accurately how much insulin and food patients need to control their glucose levels.

It is estimated the system could save between 150 and 300 lives per year in this country, and with each wheel costing less than $1 the savings to New Zealand district health boards alone are estimated to be in the range of $3-10 million annually.

Earlier this year three mechanical engineering students involved in the project - Aaron Le Compte, Timothy Lonergan and Mike Willacy - took top honours in the Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) Student Design Awards for this original wheel concept.

The Health Innovation Awards are a joint initiative by the Ministry of Health and ACC to promote the sharing of good ideas across the health, disability and rehabilitation sector.

As well as the supreme award worth $15,000, the SPRINT team led by Associate Professor Geoff Chase (Mechanical Engineering) and Christchurch Hospital Intensive Care Specialist Dr Geoff Shaw took out the $8000 Small Innovation Category award.

Professor Chase said the Health Innovation Awards recognised a programme of ongoing collaborative research that had involved a large number of researchers since its inception in 2001.

" These awards are a big deal in the medical world and represent for us some New Zealand validation of our growing international reputation in this area. They were given for the research results that are the culmination of several years of final-year projects and the concomitant PhD research that followed them so they highlight the value of these final-year team projects to bootstrap long-term research."

The overall results of the research programme to date have exceeded both Drs Chase and Shaw's expectations. There are plans to adapt the SPRINT system for use in less acute wards.

"These very successful results are the product of a strong and ongoing collaboration between engineering and medicine," said Dr Shaw.

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