New biomedical technology that can bring pain relief, faster disease diagnosis or early cancer detection has a long road to travel before a patient lying in a hospital bed can feel its benefit. Forming the right collaborations can accelerate the movement of research through this translational phase between technological concept and medical care.
To encourage this type of progress, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation recently awarded grants to several BU biomedical engineering faculty. The awards come through a five-year Translational Research Partnership between BU and the Coulter Foundation, now in its second year. The $4.58 million provided by the Coulter Foundation supports projects that aim to improve patient care through collaboration between biomedical engineers and clinicians. Ten projects have received funding in the second year of the Coulter partnership, including five that also won grants last year.
Dimitrije Stamenovic (BME) and David J. Hunter (MED) will design a brace to adjust weight pressing on the knees of osteoarthritis patients. When people stand or walk, one small area of the knee joint takes the brunt of the pressure, resulting in increased damage from osteoarthritis. The light-weight, comfortable brace under development by this research team aims to reduce the load on this section of the knee.
David Mountain (BME) and Edward B. Feinberg (MED) are developing what looks like a pair of glasses, but actually serves as a pair of ears, to help visually impaired people navigate more easily. The glasses will emit ultrasonic sonar signals that bounce back to the wearer. A small array of microphones receives the signals, shifting the frequency so the wearer can hear the resultant noises. The system will allow visually impaired people to equate incoming sounds to various features of the physical landscape around them.
Joyce Wong (BME), James A. Hamilton (MED) and Frederick Ruberg (MED) are working to give doctors a tool to predict heart attacks and strokes that happen without warning. Doctors currently have no way to detect the type of plaque that makes some arteries and veins especially susceptible to rupture, causing life-threatening blockages. This team is developing a diagnostic kit, using new imaging techniques and targeted molecular agents, that will allow doctors to find and treat the plaques.
Jerome Mertz (BME) and Satish Singh (MED) want to give clinical endoscopes better imaging ability. They use an imaging technique recently invented by Mertz that selects only the in-focus parts of the image, cutting out unneeded, out-of-focus background information. Incorporating this technology into clinical endoscopies could achieve much clearer, higher-resolution images than is currently possible.
Irving Bigio (BME) and Satish Singh (MED) will work to enhance cancer detection technology. The team is developing a system that guides doctors in selecting tissue for biopsy during esophageal endoscopy. When doctors monitor the esophagus for a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett’s Esophagus, they must select biopsy sites at random, but with the technology under development, doctors could receive instantaneous information about the tissue, guiding their biopsy selection to detect cancer as early as possible.
This research team will also continue work on a new imaging technology for endoscopic tools that received full funding in 2006. They have now received six months of “bridge funding” to facilitate commercialization of the technology which provides doctors with an “optical biopsy” during analysis of colon polyps. The device will allow clinicians to make better decisions about whether or not to remove polyps during an initial exam.
Mark Grinstaff (BME) and Brian Snyder, a researcher and physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, will continue work on a new biopolymer for use in lubricating and alleviating pain from arthritic and sports-related knee injuries. The biopolymer molecule may stay at the knee joint longer than current options, giving extended pain relief. The Coulter Foundation funded this team’s toxicity studies last year as a seed project, and is continuing funding for 2007 as a full project, while the researchers refine the properties of the polymer and begin more advanced studies.
Catherine Klapperich (BME) and Satish Singh (MED) will continue to develop a disposable plastic microfluidic chip that can isolate molecules, such as DNA or proteins, from biological samples. The research team plans to develop the chip to quickly diagnose diseases in underdeveloped regions that lack access to full laboratories. The project, fully funded last year, received bridge funding to help commercialize the technology.
Maxim Frank-Kamenetskii (BME) and Nancy Miller (MED) are developing methods to detect various infectious microbes, such as food or water-borne bacteria, that cause disease. The team is now working to commercialize their methods for detecting the genetic material within bacterial cells from blood or tissue samples, with bridge funding following their 2006 grant.
Edward Damiano (BME) and Steven J. Russell, a researcher and physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, are developing a glucose-control system for diabetics. The system uses two subcutaneous infusions – of the hormones glucagon and insulin — to automatically regulate blood sugar, in an effort to minimize or prevent long term effects of diabetes. The team received Coulter funding last year, and will use bridge funding to begin clinical trials with healthy, adult diabetes patients.
All permanent, tenure-track biomedical engineering faculty are eligible to submit proposals, with clinical medicine collaborators, for the Coulter Foundation Translational Partnership awards. For additional information, see http://www.bu.edu/dbin/bme/coulter/.