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A new asthma pump that monitors the speed of inhalation and automatically delivers a drug dosage personalised to the patient could soon help people living with the condition breathe easier.

Invented by Monash University researchers and designed to fit in the palm of one’s hand, the new PALM (Personalised Aerosol Loading and Management) device has just moved a step closer after being awarded a $725,000 grant from the Federal Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), which will be used to help build research and conduct localised human clinical trials over the next 18 months.

The world-first respiratory drug technology works by monitoring the speed of inhalation and delivering tailored drug dosages to targeted nodes in the airway that require treatment. The droplet sizes and dosage amounts are personalised and set by doctors and health professionals. For children, this means a smaller drug dose than for adults. PALM can also monitor a patient’s heart rate and blood oxygen levels.

More than 2.7 million Australians are living with asthma. Asthma sufferers have been using blue pressurised inhalers, considered best practice for asthma relief, since they were first introduced in the 1950s.

But Monash University researchers suggest some children lack the dexterity and coordination to administer the dosage from the pMDI correctly, which can prevent them from getting maximum relief.

One of PALM’s designers, Dr Jason Brenker, from Monash University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, says children under 15 are burdened most by asthma and other respiratory troubles because they cannot get the right 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,” Dr Brenker says.

Professor Bruce Thompson, from Swinburne University of Technology, who helped drive the conceptualisation of the PALM device, says patient compliance remains a major challenge in respiratory drug delivery, with up to 60% of patients suffering from chronic diseases not adhering to prescribed routines when using pMDIs. About 90% of patients do not perform all the essential steps for correct use of these devices, he adds.

To solve the problem, researchers investigated the shape and functionality of the PALM inhaler and 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. Typically, if droplet sizes are too large, the drug tends to gather in the back of the throat and not reach the lungs. While if 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.

Co-designer Dr Tuncay Alan says the technology aims to deliver an easy and effective way to optimise health outcomes, regardless of the different lung capacities, disease states, age 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 says.

“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.”