Northern Ireland

Cardiologists watch live operation at Craigavon conference

Dr Ian Menown
Image caption Dr Ian Menown says collaboration is critical

Day in, day out, Dr Ian Menown fixes, quite literally, broken hearts.

Even for him, however, Friday was a first; he operated under the intense gaze of more than 100 leading experts from the world of cardiology.

They watched by live link from the conference centre at Craigavon council offices as Dr Menown, a consultant at the nearby hospital, fitted a patient with a new type of stent.

Because of a previous ulcer, the patient was at increased risk of bleeding and a traditional stent would have posed problems. Technology developed in collaboration with Craigavon Hospital, though, seems to have found the answer.

This is just the latest in an ever-growing list of cardiology-related firsts for Craigavon.

The council and the local health trust believe the area is now perfectly placed to become a centre of excellence in this field.

It has a hospital with the ambition, the confidence and the staff to carry out pioneering work, and it has a growing group of life science companies who are supplying the industrial might and engineering know-how to help drive this work ever onward.

Matchmaker

"We're very excited about today's conference," Dr Menown said.

"Craigavon has a well-established clinical research area with lots of research going through from drug developments and new developments in stent technologies to other devices.

"But the collaboration between industry and clinicians is critical to this and indeed it's fair to say that industry has driven many of the advances - certainly in my field of cardiology - over the past 20 to 30 years.

"So working closely together with pharmacists, with industry, with engineers; this has been the key to seeing a lot of the advances that we have today and indeed is very much behind the direction of research as we look forward to the next five to 10 years."

On Friday the council acted as matchmaker between the leading lights from industry and the clinicians.

"We have the people, we have the skills," said the conference organiser, and Craigavon's head of economic development, Nicola Wilson.

"We're already doing something right," she said.

"We have the hospital here.

Image caption Research is being carried out at Randox laboratories

"We have a lot of research and development on our doorstep and it just seems the right time to do something and we can hopefully move on from there and create further opportunities.

"A lot of the big life science companies are coming along and they're giving the industry perspective.

"So we have clinicians and then we have the industry's perspective so we're really showing businesses what opportunities there are for them to commercialise some of those great ideas, what opportunities there are for small businesses to step up and supply to the high quality standards needed for the sector."

Dr Menown pointed to other areas on the island of Ireland where similar skill clusters have sprung up.

"Galway for example has been an excellent example of the benefit of strategic collaboration between industry and medicine," he said.

"We would very much like for Craigavon to benefit from that type of collaboration and indeed Northern Ireland as a whole."

Among the delegates on Friday was Dr Mary Jo Kurth, from clinical diagnostics company Randox.

Randox's factory is tucked away at the end of a bumpy country lane near Crumlin, a test tube's throw from Craigavon.

Clinical trials

"We have four different buildings within about three miles of each other," she said.

"And we've purposely selected the countryside because we manufacture products and we need the clean, pure air and this is what's guaranteed out here: lots of fresh air, lots of fields around us.

"But we still have state-of-the-art laboratories, we have the top research scientists and engineers working with Randox in developing new products and this is key for our penetration into the market for new products."

For Dr Kurth, the road between Crumlin and Craigavon is a well-trodden one.

"We've worked very closely with Craigavon since our initial meeting with them a few years ago," she said.

"They're very well set up for clinical trials within the hospital.

"The cardiologists, the research fellows and nurses that we work with are very interested and very keen.

"They have a genuine interest in improving the patient pathway in hospital. And we're working very closely with them to ensure they have the right diagnostic tests so that they can diagnose conditions earlier and get appropriate treatments and therefore have a better survival rate."

It's this embracing of what is one of the biggest growth industries in the developed world that Nicola Wilson thinks will give Craigavon's economy a much-needed boost.

"We're coming through a recession," she said. "There are lots of different challenges to companies and we need to have something that other areas don't have.

"Craigavon Borough Council recognises the strength that we have here.

"We're doing something right; we have Almac, we have all those jobs and we want to build on that.

"I think that's the only thing we can do; to differentiate ourselves, to move up the value chain and to encourage all our businesses to do exactly the same."