Breathing new life into asthma treatment using the palm of their hand

Monash University researchers have received more than $725,000 from the Federal Government to improve the health of asthmatics with their revolutionary PALM device.

  • Monash University researchers have received more than $725,000 from the Federal Government to improve the health of asthmatics across Australia.  
  • World-first drug delivery technology, the PALM (Personalised Aerosol Loading and Management) device is on the cusp of human clinical trials.
  • PALM monitors the speed of inhalation and automatically delivers a personalised drug dosage specific to the patient.

World-first drug delivery technology, designed by Monash University researchers to help improve the health of asthmatics, has received a grant of more than $725,000 through the Federal Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Announced in October, the funding will be used to progress research and facilitate localised human clinical trials of the PALM (Personalised Aerosol Loading and Management) device in the next 18 months.

This new respiratory drug technology, designed by Dr Tuncay Alan and Dr Jason Brenker from Monash University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, delivers the appropriate dosage to targeted nodes in the airway that require treatment. A patent has been registered for this innovation.

PALM monitors the speed of inhalation and automatically delivers a drug dosage personalised to the patient. The droplet sizes and dosage amounts are personalised, set by doctors and health professionals. For children, this means a smaller drug dose than for adults.

Most importantly, PALM targets specific nodes in the airway that need to be treated – meaning asthmatics get targeted relief faster and more efficiently. PALM can also monitor a patient’s heart rate and blood oxygen levels.

More than 2.7 million Australians, or approximately 11 per cent of the population, have asthma. The standard blue pressurised metered dose inhaler (pMDI), first introduced in the 1950s, is still considered best practice for asthma relief.

However, researchers say some younger children lack the dexterity and coordination to administer the dosage from the pMDI correctly. This prevents children from getting maximum pharmaceutical relief.

Dr Brenker says children under the age of 15 are burdened most by asthma and other respiratory troubles because they cannot get the requisite amount of the drug into their lungs in order to treat the condition.

“For increased effectiveness, a personalised approach is required. This is currently not possible with any commercially available device. Our research is working to fix this problem.”

Professor Bruce Thompson from Swinburne University of Technology, who was influential in the conceptualisation of the PALM device, said: “Patient compliance is a major challenge in respiratory drug delivery with up to 60 per cent of patients suffering from chronic diseases not adhering to prescribed routines when using pMDIs. Similarly, 90 per cent of patients don’t perform all the essential steps for correct use of these devices.”

In order to solve this problem, researchers examined the shape and functionality of the PALM inhaler and the droplet sizes.

The inhaler is designed to fit in the palm of one’s hand. Doctors and health practitioners can dial in the dosage amount and droplet sizes according to the patient’s personal needs.

If the droplet sizes are too large, the drug tends to gather in the back of the throat and not reach the lungs. If the droplet sizes are too small, patients inhale and exhale the drug without it reaching the targeted part of the respiratory system.

PALM’s computer chip technology monitors a patient’s breathing rates and lung capacity, so when the device is placed upon the mouth, the drug is dispensed automatically with inhalation.

Dr Alan says this technology aims to deliver an easy and effective way to optimise health outcomes regardless of the different lung capacities, disease states, ages and genders of patients.

“Viral and chronic respiratory diseases continue to be amongst the leading causes of death both in Australia and internationally. Their treatment often requires aerosolised drug compounds to be effectively delivered to specific regions of the airway,” Dr Alan said.

“The personalised aerosol delivery technology will be of huge benefit to individuals suffering from respiratory diseases, opening the way for using the extensive surface areas of the lungs as portals for the systemic delivery of therapeutic agents and biologics.”

The Monash Institute of Medical Engineering (MIME), the Monash Generator and SPARK Oceania are supporting the development of PALM.

Dr Alan and Dr Brenker, along with Richard Morfuni and Professor Daphne Flynn from the Design Health Collab at Monash University have since January been working on the portable inhaler design.

Pre-clinical testing is currently underway with collaborators in the Woolcock Institute at the University of Sydney, with Professor Daniela Traini, Dr Hui Xin Ong and Dr Larissa Gomes responsible for the in vitro device testing and associated formulation.

Professor Traini from the University of Sydney, who is providing expertise on aerosol science and drug delivery, said: “Being able to ‘dial-in’ the required dose using a simple hand-held device will be revolutionary in improving therapy efficacy and patient compliance. For years we have searched for this and now it is in our PALM.”

For the full list of Monash University projects funded as part of the latest round of Development Grants from the NHMRC, please visit https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/news-centre/development-grants-boost-commercial-outcomes-australian-medical-research.