NC hospital launches new products from initiative
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 9:02 p.m.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Products providing more comfort to patients in awkward examination and intensive-care settings are some of the first fruits coming out of the Wake Forest Innovations initiative.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center launched the division in December as part of enhancing the commercializing of its academic and clinical research to bolster revenue streams and establish new ones.
One prototype involves a device that allows for an easier exchange of an endotracheal tube for intensive-care unit patients. The tube protects a patient's airway, but can have mucus and bacterial biofilms form in it within days, which can lead to infection.
Another prototype is for a foam device that fits over the ears to reduce the decibel levels for patients while in an MRI scanner.
The two devices will be aimed initially at Wake Forest Baptist patients, said Eric Tomlinson, the university's chief innovation officer who doubles as president of Piedmont Triad Research Park.
"If we can see a larger opportunity for commercialization, then we will surely go down that path," Tomlinson said.
Researchers also are nearly ready to debut a tracking system that collects and stores data about radiation protective devices.
"The prevailing mindset for faculty for decades has been publish or perish," Tomlinson said. "That has been supplanted by the need for faculty to be scholars and innovators, to bring products and services to patients quicker and to commercialize and monetize their innovations."
The endotracheal tube-changing device was invented by Dr. Michael Olympio, a professor of anesthesiology.
The average ICU patient depends on the tube in his airway for 12 days, said Dean Snell, an associate director of product innovation and commercialization services, a subdivision of Wake Forest Innovations .
"Ideally, the tube would be changed every few days, but this does not happen because physicians are terrified that as soon as they remove the tube, the airway will swell closed, which can lead to death," Snell said.
"Therefore, the tubes are almost never changed, and they continue to get clogged with mucus and serve as a source of infection."
The tube-changing device includes a mouthpiece and a cutting edge to facilitate the swapping of tubes.
"The change can be done pretty quickly," Snell said. "I've seen Dr. Olympio do it within 10-15 seconds in our demonstration lab. That's important because as part of this procedure the patient is not breathing."
After researchers fine-tune the device's design, Snell said the next goal is finding a quality and production partner to commercialize the device.
Stephen Susalka, also an associate director of product innovation and commercialization services with the division, said the MRI-safe slim-profile ear cups are an example of how researchers and clinicians can test quickly an innovation proposal.
Although new high-field MRI scanners offer "unprecedented image resolutions," they also produce an even higher volume of noise and sound pressure levels that can reach 100 to 130 decibels - the latter the same level of decibels as a jackhammer, or seating near the percussion section at a symphony.
According to OSHA standards, 130 decibels can cause permanent damage even at short exposure rates. The loudest recommended exposure with ear protection is 140 decibels.
Many of the available MRI-safe hearing protection devices are physically too large to fit in the head coils available on the high field strength scanners.
Susalka said researchers are determining which kinds of foam and what level of thickness should be used with the ear cups.
"When we analyzed the market, we recognized the importance is to provide a device for the most number of patients with the least amount of customization," Susalka said. Researchers chose to take that approach given a "cost-conscious health-care market" that prefers lower-cost solutions, he said.
"This way, instead of having a small, medium and large set of ear cups, one standard size with some gradations in there is likely to be more useful to our hospital and hospitals across the country," Susalka said.
"We're pretty close with the prototype. This is not something that will require FDA approval and a 7- to 10-year regulatory process."
Wake Forest University ranks fifth in the most recent survey of licensing income by the Association of University Technology Managers. The survey typically covers a five-year period.
The cost of doing business for universities requires a constant pursuit of new revenue sources. Wake Forest's tech-transfer management efforts have handled a range of services from licensing discoveries to forming spin-off companies to create and sell researchers' discoveries.
If the patents aren't broad, or the potential market for the discoveries is smaller, Wake Forest sometimes licenses the technology to a company that will make the product and share the revenue with the university.
Some officials, though, say the trend toward commercializing research has a downside. It can take the focus away from basic scientific research, which may not be marketable but moves science forward.
Other recent innovation examples include the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials developing a new kind of light bulb for commercial and residential use that could generate $400 million to $500 million in sales and millions in royalty payments to the university.
The data-gathering system, known as Pulse Finder RFID (radio frequency identification) Enhanced, was created by Stuart Grogan, a radiology equipment manager at Wake Forest Baptist.
The mother of invention in Grogan's case was growing tired of trying to maintain accurate information on the medical center's more than 850 radiology protective devices on paper.
Working with ScanOnline of Albemarle and Pulse Medical Inc. of Blue Ridge, Ga., a manufacturer of radiology protective items, Grogan developed a mobile-tracking and data-collection system for the equipment.
The system includes a mobile cart with a laptop to run the application, a router and a wireless hand-held scanner. All of the radiology vests, aprons, shields and gloves at the center now include a passive RFID tag that allows each item to be found easily, even within a large area.
"Our objective was to inspect, collect the data and get that equipment back into circulation as quickly as possible," Grogan said.
A provisional application for a patent on the tracking system has been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Wake Forest Baptist would be the patent holder.
Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, http://www.journalnow.com
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