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QUB prof de Silva's blood pressure device is worldwide hit

A device invented by a Northern Ireland academic to help care for his grandmother is now being used in hospitals around the world.

The unique mobile sensor, devised by Professor A Prasanna de Silva to treat high blood pressure, has also been used in ambulances and field hospitals in trouble spots globally.

The Queen's University chemistry professor told how he thought of the device in 1980 while taking care of his grandmother, who suffered from hypertension.

"She had been a principal carer for me in my early years and so it was my turn to be a principal carer for her in her twilight," Prof de Silva said.

The doctor caring for Prof de Silva's grandmother explained to him how reducing sodium can reduce blood pressure. This required measuring sodium levels, which was a process done in a clinical lab that took several days.

Prof de Silva began researching alternatives to measuring sodium, including using molecule sensors to detect sodium levels.

He took his research with him to Queen's and constructed several sensors that communicated sodium levels by sending light signals.

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The sensors were much faster than traditional lab work, and made blood tests available in 30 seconds.

It never occurred to Prof de Silva to take his research into the field and try to mass produce the sensors.

But in 1998 medical supplies firm Roche Diagnostics read a research publication from Queen's, and several members visited Prof de Silva in Belfast to see the sensors he had constructed.

Roche Diagnostics then partnered with de Silva to produce the sensors, and they quickly spread around the world.

The sensors are now used in critical care units in the US and Europe, doctors' offices in Japan, army field hospitals in China, and ambulances in Sri Lanka and Libya.

Prof de Silva's work was presented to Parliament recently as part of a national campaign run by the Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Physics.

"A modern economy like the UK's cannot be sustained in the long-term without a science foundation," Prof de Silva said. "While financial gain comes and goes, science achievements remain.

"Those achievements, which are born in quiet laboratories, need commercial and political will so that wider society can benefit."