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Scope Series 4 RTÉ Two, Thursday, 7.00pm

Profile: Claire Lillis

Mechanical design engineer Claire Lillis is making sure the sick breathe easier. Lillis designs and improves nebulisers, machines that mix liquid medication into a mist, which is then easily inhaled by patients through a breathing apparatus.

ChildPeople with severe asthma, cystic fibrosis and other respiratory diseases are the ones who generally use these devices. nebulisers, also known as atomisers, deliver drugs directly to the lungs, where they are needed most, in the form of a pain-free puff of air. 

Lillis is one of about 30 employees working for Aerogen, a small high tech company based in Galway, which manufactures nebulisers. Her latest project is helping design a new device to cut down on contagious hospital infections like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

MRSA is an antibiotic resistant strain of the same bacteria that causes common staph infections. First discovered in the UK in 1961, it is now widespread in hospitals in many countries. While fairly harmless in healthy people, MRSA can be deadly to people who are already ill and have weakened immune systems.

Current practice is to give each nebuliser a squirt of anti-bacterial spray and then pass it to the next patient. While this is currently considered good practice, Lillis thinks it could be better. Her idea for a fail-safe way to stop potentially lethal infections spreading from patient to patient is to develop a device that is only used by a single patient and then disposed of after a certain period of use.

Incorporating her interests in engineering with general medical health subjects like human anatomy and biology, Lillis studied biomedical engineering in Limerick.

Her day-to-day work for Aerogen involves using a 3D modelling programme to produce drawings and solutions for different design issues.

Lillis relishes the challenge of being given a problem and coming back with a solution. It keeps her creative juices flowing and keeps her on her toes, which is just where she likes to be. When not at work, Lillis is a keen ballet dancer.

Dancing since the age of four, Lillis even started a dance society at university and choreographed many of the college musicals. She even gave serious thought to pursuing a ballet career but didn’t want to turn her hobby - and best energy outlet - into a chore.

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