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The Nanomonitor: Inventing in the Flight Against Cardiovascular Disease
The Nanomonitor: Inventing in the Flight Against Cardiovascular Disease

Part 3 in a series on nanoscience and nanotechnology at Portland State. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

The numbers are devastating. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008, over 616,000 people died of heart disease, almost one in every four deaths in the United States (www.cdc.gov). The same report asserts that in 2010, the cost of caring for those suffering from coronary heart disease in the United States would reach nearly $109 billion. The World Health Organization projects that by the year 2030, the group of heart and blood disorders collectively known as cardiovascular disease (CVD) will take 23.6 million lives worldwide (www.who.int). While CVD is a ruthless killer, it is also a preventable one.

Reducing the shocking number of deaths caused by this disease will require a combination of efforts, from lifestyle choices at the individual and societal levels, to innovations in science and technology. With CVD afflicting and killing more and more people every year, it is imperative that physicians, health service centers (such as clinics and hospitals), and patients have the best tools available for the rapid, accurate diagnoses of CVD. Now, thanks to the combined efforts of the office of Innovation & Intellectual Property (IIP) at Portland State University, Pacific Nanoscience, a local start-up company with an interest in promoting and developing the use of nanotechnology in the medical field, and the Baker Group LLP, a company dedicated to advancing technology, there is a promising new technology for the diagnosis of CVD under development that aims to be faster, less expensive, and more accurate than current industry standards. While the Nanomonitor uses nanotechnology to detect the CVD biomarker, troponin, in the blood stream, perhaps its most intriguing aspect is the ability to identify a patient’s level of risk before a cardiac event occurs.

Current diagnostic testing options, done after a person has had a heart attack, include: electrocardiograms (ECG), echocardiography, cardiac MRIs, and cardiac stress tests. While these tests are valuable, they are expensive, time consuming, and can require multiple trips to a health care facility. Because one step in preventing cardiac events is early detection, the Nanomonitor will help identify risk before, during, or after a cardiac event, and will provide physicians and patients a decrease in cost per test, a decrease in time spent performing the test, and an increased confidence in the test results.

“With the Nanomonitor, as designed by Pacific Nanoscience, troponin can now be measured to levels of precision previously unheard of with other diagnostic devices,” Brenda Edin of the Baker Group said. “Identifying CVD risk has the potential to greatly enhance outcomes for cardiac patients.”

Pacific Nanoscience’s innovations in troponin detection is what drew The Baker Group, whose interest in in advancing micro- and nanotechnology relative to the medical and energy industries, into the plan to develop the Nanomonitor

While The Baker Group has only recently become involved in the production of the Nanomonitor, the office of Innovation & Intellectual Property was introduced to the technology that made this advance in troponin detection possible nearly seven years ago. Dr. Shalini Prasad, former Assistant Professor in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Portland State University, now Professor in the Bioengineering Department at the University of Texas, Dallas, along with her collaborator, Dr. Thomas W. Barrett, Portland VA Medical Center and Assistant Associate Professor in the Admin Unit Division of Hospital Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, disclosed a new technology for detecting protein biomarkers using nanoporous membranes.

“The fundamental premise of the technology is that it is biomimetic,” Dr. Prasad remarked. “The lesson we learnt from nature is that we live in a crowded world at all scales: nano, micro, and macro. Leveraging crowding at the nanoscale can give tremendous benefits, especially while designing diagnostic platforms.”

Innovation & Intellectual Property supported the designing process by maintaining patent applications on Dr. Prasad’s and Dr. Barrett’s behalf for years. The value of that support is now apparent in the interest the Baker Group has taken in Pacific Nanoscience and the subsequent plan to develop the Nanomonitor into a cost-effective tool that could soon be in use in hospitals and emergency rooms where it will have the potential to help physicians save millions of lives every year.

"We are so pleased that this innovation has found a champion and a home,” Joe Janda said. “It's definitely one we've kept alive for a long time, through multiple starts and stops with other commercial partners, and through long patent prosecution.  Of all the things we've tried to add to this project, connecting the Baker Group with the founders of PacNano has so far turned out to be a key moment."

The applications of this remarkable technology, however, are not limited to CVD.

“We’ve seen additional biomarkers in the research being conducted by Dr. Prasad,” Edin said. “There are applications specifically for sepsis and cancer biomarkers.”

As developments in nanoscience and nanotechnology continue to progress and as more companies like the Baker Group continue to invest personnel and capital into companies like Pacific Nanoscience, we may see in the not too distant future Nanomonitors in the hands of physicians and primary-care providers in hospitals and health centers throughout the world.

“One of the reasons we choose to work with Pacific Nanoscience and their Nanomonitor technology is that we are interested in promoting technologies that improve or enhance the patient experience, while at the same time having some kind of empowerment benefit too: increasing knowledge, or public awareness,” Edin said.

This is also one of the reasons why the office of Innovation & Intellectual Property works with innovators at Portland State University and beyond. Even if it takes years from the initial disclosure of an invention to whatever end best helps the knowledge and innovations developed at PSU serve the world—IIP is here to promote the use and increase the impact of PSU innovations.