Three teams of MU faculty investigators have received funding for three team projects that will develop medical innovations related to peripheral arterial disease, cancer treatment and concussions.
The MU Coulter Biomedical Accelerator Program awarded three teams of innovators more than $200,000 to fund proof-of-concept work on a smart surveillance system to monitor vascular bypasses and stents at home; a portable assessment tool to monitor concussions; and an efficient, low-cost microfluidic chip device to detect tumor cells.
The MU Coulter Program began in 2021 as a 5-year, $5 million partnership between MU and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. In 2016, MU committed $4 million to continue funding the program that pairs clinicians with engineers who work together on health initiatives.
Bringing academic and entrepreneurial resources together to help translate biomedical innovations into viable products that can be marketed to the public is one of the program’s missions.
In addition to funding, the program also provides training, advising and mentorship.
“The whole framework that the Coulter Foundation helped us set up back in 2012 was to ensure that lab-based research projects can find their way to the clinic to actually impact people’s lives,” said Jaya Ghosh, program director of the Coulter Biomedical Accelerator Program.
The smart surveillance system, known as S3, is tackling peripheral arterial disease and the poor long-term durability that stents and bypasses have for patients.
Peripheral arterial disease is a common circulation problem where narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to limbs, typically legs and feet.
Currently, 8 million to 12 million patients in the U.S. live with this disease and 400,000 have had stenting or surgical bypasses. Between a quarter and 50% of these stents and bypasses fail after one year. That can lead to emergency operations and even amputations.
“The problem is that the stent is good for a few months, and then the problem happens again,” said Mihail Popescu, the engineer on the project.
“If you delay and if you don’t know the situation of the disease, it gets to emergency surgery.”
Popescu and Jonathan Bath, the lead researchers, are developing an in-home surveillance device that can detect early failure of a stent or bypass more frequently and cost-effectively.
This system uses infrared technology and algorithms to detect blood flow in the lower legs in those who have had endovascular or surgical procedures to treat the disease.
If the technology detects an impending failure of the stent, it will send the information back to a doctor who can then schedule a time to repair the stent.
“If we track the progression or stages of the stent, then we can see if the stent is holding right or not and then we can contact the patient and schedule an appointment for them to come in,” Popescu said. “If you wait too long, then they may have to amputate the leg.”
“We can develop a product, but does it really make a difference in decreasing hospitalizations and increasing life expectancy?” he said.
Monitoring concussionsAnother of the newly funded projects aims to find a viable way to monitor concussions more consistently through a point-of-care assessment system (Mizzou PASS). With about 3.8 million concussive injuries yearly from sports, car accidents and falls, there is a need for a faster, more affordable assessment system.
The two researchers on this project, clinician Rebecca Bliss and engineer Trent Guess, are working on a portable tool to provide more objective data.
“There is a lack of objective data,” Bliss said. “We are sending people back to work based on subjective reports.”
The current measure for concussions is the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool 5 (SCAT5) that measures memory, orientation, cognition, neurological screening and a balance assessment.
The balance assessment is a great tool for the first 24 to 48 hours, Bliss said, but becomes problematic thereafter.
Static balance returns quickly for patients but not dynamic balance, which is what athletes need to return to sports.
Bliss and Guess want to create something easy, portable, accessible and affordable for clinics and athletic trainers to monitor the situation objectively.
The type of technology needed for this assessment is already available. A gait lab uses technology that takes 3-D images of children walking. This is intended to help children with cerebral palsy improve the motions of walking, stepping and running.
Other image screening and 3-D camera technology is also on the market, but it can be expensive, often costing more than $100,000. Bliss and Guess want to make a device that is more affordable.
“We are targeting a system that is cheap and portable and is obviously not going to be as perfect as a $100,000 system but will definitely be good enough to measure concussion assessments,” Guess said
“It will also have applications in other areas such as balance for older populations and injury-risk assessment for athletes.”
Tumor cell detection chipThe third funded project is TumorTrap, an efficient, low-cost and rapid microfluidic circulating tumor cell detection chip. The researchers involved in this are Jussuf Kaifi and Jae Kwon.
Last year alone, there were 1.7 million new cancer cases and 606,880 cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Current imaging technology is advanced when providing information about a patient’s disease, but the technology lacks when looking for otherwise undetectable cancer cells.
For instance, when treating lung cancer, a patient may go through an invasive biopsy and costly imaging, but it may not show the progression of the cancer over time.
Another option can track cancer by detecting circulating tumor cells collected from repeated blood samples, but it is expensive and not as useful in therapy.
Kaifi and Kwon want to make an inexpensive, easy, point-of-care tool that detects circulating tumor cells and processes them quickly. The system is designed to isolate the cells and characterize them, helping doctors prescribe the right drugs to patients and thereby reducing the cost of care.
“The goal is to detect small number of cells that can help inform management of care and treatment planning,” Ghosh said.
These projects illustrate solutions to unmet needs in the clinical world, and the grants mean real steps can be taken to make these products a reality.
“This is a good time to be in the Midwest,” Ghosh said. “Resources supporting biomedical innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities are seeing a strong and steady growth.”