A sign of the strength of University of Pittsburgh’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem is the reauthorization earlier in 2021 of the Chancellor’s Gap Fund, which provides grants of $25,000 to $75,000 for innovators with promising discoveries to explore the commercial potential of their ideas.
Proposals went through a multi-step process involving a team drawn from the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, as well as an internal faculty review board.
Three projects were selected this year and one of those included the work of McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Tracy Cui, PhD, a William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh and the Director of the Neural Tissue/Electrode Interface and Neural Tissue Engineering Lab. The project is entitled “Biodegradable Nerve Stimulator.” In addition to Dr. Cui, the principal investigators are Trent Emerick, MD, Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, and Raj Kubendran, PhD, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
A description of the project follows:
A biodegradable nerve stimulator to treat acute and chronic pain. The stimulator is an injectable wire that is placed under the skin near the nerve of interest using ultrasound. The device does not require an incision or surgery to be implanted and is considered minimally invasive. The electrical stimulation would produce a soothing vibration in the area of interest. The device degrades over 3-6 months, however ample evidence exists in the medical literature that shows that temporary nerve stimulation can lead to long-term pain relief due to brain plasticity and central nervous system changes at the level of the spinal cord.
Currently, many patients with refractory pain who have failed conservative therapies turn to permanent steel surgical stimulators as an option. These devices are costly and have an overall complication rate of 30-40%. These steel stimulators require surgery and an incision, which leads to higher health care costs from surgery/anesthesia, and many other complications that a biodegradable lead avoids. Compliance is also an issue with the surgical devices.
A prototype of the biodegradable device has been developed. The Gap Fund award will be used to develop a pain model to test the biodegradable stimulator versus a control. Additionally, it will be used to develop the conceptual framework and prototype for the external battery pack and circuitry design. A company, Vanish Therapeutics, was spun out of the University in April 2021.
Congratulations, Dr. Cui!