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How is AMRF supporting groundbreaking medical device research to help hydrocephalus sufferers?

From “intermediate kid who got lost in the pages of a book about the brain at Central Library, Palmerston North” to academic neurosurgeon who is improving patient care, AMRF congratulates Dr Sang Ho Kim.


In 2021 Dr Kim was a junior doctor who received an AMRF Doctoral Scholarship to become a clinician-scientist. His achievements in testing the human suitability of an implantable device for measuring pressure in the brain was recently rewarded with a Health Research Council (HRC) Clinical Research Training fellowship.

Sue Brewster, Executive Director of Auckland Medical Research Foundation, says, "We are delighted to have been a springboard for Dr Kim's career and supporting emerging researchers is what AMRF is renown for. His AMRF scholarship and now his HRC fellowship show his immense capability and the merit in his research goals, as both have been rigorously reviewed by medical, scientific and research experts."

My career goal is to become an academic neurosurgeon who is a leader in their field and at the forefront of cutting-edge technology to identify and pursue new opportunities for improving patient care.

"The generous funding from the AMRF will allow me to undertake a PhD, full time. My PhD work is particularly relevant to my career aspiration as the Implantable Devices Group (IDG) at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) is nearing their first human safety and feasibility study," says Dr Kim.

"Hydrocephalus is the abnormal build-up of brain fluid that requires urgent neurosurgical intervention. The condition cannot be cured but is treatable by installing a tube (shunt) to drain the excess fluid and avoid high pressure inside the head. Unfortunately, these shunts have a 60% chance of becoming blocked within the first two years.

"Shunt blockage results in a life-threatening increase in pressure inside the head. As a result, frequent visits to the Emergency Department ensue as the signs of shunt failure are subtle and look like the common cold. Shunt failure can only be confirmed with a brain scan involving radiation.

Having a shunt means living in a perpetual state of anxiety, not knowing when it will fail, and being exposed to unnecessary radiation every time it is suspected.

"Thus, there is an unmet clinical need for a technology that allows accurate long-term measurement of intracranial pressure (ICP) and the prompt early recognition of imminent shunt failure.

Dr Kim at work in a surgical suite
Dr Kim at work in a surgical suite

"The IDG is developing a small implantable pressure sensor that senses and wirelessly transmits pressure measurements inside a person’s head for the long-term monitoring of ICP."

To date, "we have achieved wireless measurements of sheep brain pressure. The analysis of this data will support the previous work and publication I was involved in regarding the implant's efficacy and safety. We are making progress towards the first in-human study, scheduled to begin in 2024. To prepare for this, I am currently working with the group to develop the ethics and study protocol.

"I am excited about the project's potential impact on patients with hydrocephalus. Our technology can produce a substantial change in their care from reactive to proactive monitoring. The device will significantly reduce the uncertainty and associated anxiety of not knowing whether a shunt is failing."

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