It is estimated that 17.9 million lives are lost to heart attacks each year. This makes heart failure the number one cause of death globally. The major cause of heart attack is unstable fatty deposits, called plaque, in the walls of the arteries. Current procedures can detect the presence and the degree of plaques, but they cannot determine if plaque is stable or unstable.
Swinburne PhD intern, Toon Goris, is working with ground-breaking medical device startup, Nirtek, to change that. Nirtek is developing a device that can be fed into a coronary artery to detect which plaques are unstable by using near infrared light.
Connecting industry and research
Nirtek Research and Development Program Manager Carla Zampaglione worked closely with Swinburne PhD supervisor, Professor Paul Stoddart, to help fill a gap in their team with Toon’s specialised skills.
“Paul spoke highly not only of Toon’s capability, but also the alignment of his unique skillset and the needs of our project,” says Carla.
Toon jumped at the idea of being able to develop his knowledge in an industry setting.
"The research Nirtek was doing was very close to my field, and I could directly translate my academic work," he explains.
Making a real contribution
With the support of the inclusive Nirtek team, Toon soon found himself becoming the 'go-to guy' for his area.
“In the industry setting I have enough knowledge to help. It feels like I can really contribute,” he says.
Toon created a testbed comprised of phantom tissues – complex artificial gels that mimic human tissue – for Nirtek to trial their device. This process was integral to advancing the design to its current prototype.
“My work with Nirtek has impact; everything I have done has shifted the design straight away,“ says Toon.
“Toon has been instrumental in helping Nirtek bridge the gap between evaluating theoretical research and actual real-life use cases of our cardiology diagnostics guidewire device, which assists in the prevention of heart attacks,” explains Carla.
Nirtek’s guidewire device concept uses near infrared light inside an artery to see if plaques are unstable
Beyond the science
As well as expanding his scientific knowledge and experience, working as part of a diverse team taught Toon to report confidently, communicate research in a way that is accessible, and not to be afraid to ask questions.
“My internship helped me in my teamwork skills, as well as my academic knowledge,” says Toon.
“It taught me that it's okay to say: I don't know this, but I'll figure it out by next week.“
“Toon brings a fantastic attitude and approach to learning to the Nirtek team,” says Carla.
“He has interacted with highly experienced technical personnel, the management team and the leadership team with the same upbeat, honest and enthusiastic manner.”
Work with impact
By the time Toon’s initial four-month placement was complete, he had become an integral part of the close-knit Nirtek team. They extended his contract, and he continues to work with Nirtek to fulfil the company’s vision of preventing heart attacks and saving lives.
The internship is hosted by Swinburne’s Medical Technology Victoria (MedTechVic) research hub as part of a larger partnership with Nirtek. This collaboration is focused on putting Victoria at the forefront of medical technology development and manufacturing, and seeding deep ties between research and industry.