Professor's invention could improve how doctors treat vascular disease

By Staff

A new noninvasive technology developed by a University of Colorado professor could soon give doctors real-time information about blood flow and artery blockages, vital details needed to treat patients suffering from stroke and other vascular disease symptoms.

Robin Shandas, a mechanical engineering professor at CU-Boulder and a professor of pediatrics and cardiology at the University of Colorado Denver, invented a technology that uses ultrasound and FDA-approved "microbubbles" to track blood flow.

Logos for CU Tech Transfer and Illumasonix

Under an exclusive licensing agreement announced on June 23, Illumasonix LLC, a Colorado-based medical device company, will develop Shandas' technology and take it to market as early as 2011. Allied Mindsformed Illumasonix in 2007 with undisclosed initial capitalization and research funding and $250,000 in matching state funds.

The CU Technology Transfer Office, which announced the licensing agreement, said Shandas' invention offers a new medical diagnostic tool that combines the high resolution of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with the ease of use and speed of ultrasound. The technology will be especially beneficial to doctors treating patients suffering from stroke and other vascular diseases.

Earlier this year, Illumasonix reported positive initial results from its ongoing human feasibility study of Shandas' technology, and anticipates its first product offering in early 2011. Allied Minds Vice President Erick Rabins, who also manages Illumasonix, said the technology would provide a substantially more accurate and predictive way to assess cardiovascular health than current treatment methods.

"We believe it will become the primary tool used to determine when and if surgical intervention is required," he told the Technology Transfer Office.

First developed in the mid-1990s, microbubble technology has been touted as a revolutionary medical treatment for a broad spectrum of fields such as gene therapy and chemotherapy. The tiny bubbles form when doctors mix an oily solution and inject the frothy result into the bloodstream. When ultrasound is applied, the bubbles display clear pictures of organs, offering doctors insight into a patient's internal health.

The scans, which are available in a matter of minutes, are said to be less expensive than CT scans and MRI images, which can take hours to develop. In recent years, doctors have also explored the use of microbubble technology for targeted drug therapy treatments, eliminating the need to bombard a patient's entire body with a drug and reducing the risk of side effects.

Cardiovascular and neurovascular diseases affect millions of people each year. Stroke is the third-leading cause of death and disability in the United States, and health care professionals often use the axiom "time is brain" to impress the importance of early treatment for stroke patients. In some cases, even the smallest lag in treatment can lead to brain damage, paralysis or death. According to the American Heart Association, stroke warning signs include sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble seeing in one or both eyes, and dizziness or loss of balance.