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University of Minnesota finalizes second license agreement for technology that could help millions with artery disease

Engineering professor developed non-invasive technology used by Minnesota startup company

October 30, 2013

The University of Minnesota has finalized a second license agreement with International Cardio Corporation, a privately held Minnesota startup company, that creates a new field of use for image-guided high-intensity focused (HIFU) ultrasound technology to potentially treat hypertension or to manage pain through this real-time ultrasonic imaging technology rather than through surgery or prescription drugs.  

In 2011, the first license was finalized between ICC and the University’s Office for Technology Commercialization for the innovative HIFU technology to treat atherosclerosis, a condition in which arteries become blocked and inelastic due to plaque buildup on the artery walls. This build up leads to peripheral artery disease (PAD), which affects 8 to 12 million Americans; 1 in 3 older Americans with diabetes have PAD.  

The HIFU technology uses a thermal effect to ablate the plaques in blood vessel walls that restrict blood flow caused by the condition. The technology was developed by a team of U of M researchers led by Professor Emad Ebbini, an electrical and computer engineering professor in the College of Science and Engineering.

"We were very excited by the possibility to treat people suffering from atherosclerosis in a completely non-invasive way," said Dennis Sellke, CEO ICC. "By using ultrasound technology in this way, we can potentially bring to market a totally non-invasive technology platform that can improve outcomes for many patients and reduce the current costs of treatment. We are excited by what we’ve seen in the lab, and now that we know there is a path forward, we wanted to explore ways to treat other conditions that can respond to this HIFU platform."

During the several years of the relationship with ICC, Ebbini and his team of researchers have further refined their technology, developing a dual-mode ultrasound array (DMUA) system for image-guided HIFU interventions. This new approach makes it possible to image and treat the condition simultaneously, improving the safety and efficacy of the treatment. Completed experiments have now shown the viability of the DMUA system to treat atherosclerosis in a safe and effective manner.

"Existing treatments for PAD and related conditions, such as angioplasty or catheter use, can be risky and are not nearly as precise," said Ebbini. "Our research has demonstrated that, with DMUA image-guided HIFU, we can effectively treat the problem areas in a completely non-invasive way without damaging any of the surrounding, normal tissues."

This success is a key indicator that the technology may work in other areas, such as to target specific nerves to manage chronic pain and hypertension, and has prompted ICC to explore this new field of use with the University. Almost 30 percent of Americans claim to experience chronic pain, and nearly 70 million Americans, or 1 in 3 adults, suffer from high blood pressure, costing the U.S. more than $47 billion annually in direct medical expenses.

"This technology is at a transition point out of the lab to its commercial development," said Sellke, who has worked in the medical device industry for more than 40 years. "HIFU represents a paradigm shift in how we treat conditions that affect a large number of people around the world. And now we are well on our way to bringing this groundbreaking innovation to market."

"The ongoing research is going very well and showing great progress and commercial potential," said Jay Schrankler, executive director of the University’s Office for Technology Commercialization. "The license deals OTC helped to negotiate between the University and ICC are tremendous wins for continued innovation in medical device development and health care delivery and for the future of this promising enterprise. This kind of public/private partnership serves as a model for industry and university collaboration ushering new technology toward everyday use where it can benefit society."

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