Texas Tech gets NIH grant to develop device

The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine in Odessa has received a National Institutes of Health grant to develop a device to quantify the fetal and placental oxygen being taken in.

Dr. Natalia Schlabritz-Lutsevich, associate regional dean for research and research associate professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Texas Tech health sciences, said oxygen can be measured with an oximeter placed on someone’s finger. But you couldn’t put an oximeter on a fetus or placenta, she said.

The school has partnered with Alexander Oraevsky, president and chief technology officer at TomoWave Laboratories Inc. Schlabritz-Lutsevich said the grant is designed for partnerships between academia and small business.

The grant is $100,000 for six months. If it is successful and shows progress, Phase II would be $1.5 million spread over three years. They have to develop a prototype, Schlabritz-Lutsevich said.

“It’s the first time that the Permian Basin campus received a grant to this campus, not to Lubbock or somewhere else. This is very remarkable. It marks our progress in this field,” Schlabritz-Lutsevich added.

She added that the question is how to measure the oxygen taken in by the fetus and placenta and how conditions can be diagnosed quickly and non-invasively.

“We partnered together to tackle this problem. NIH has this umbrella of the human placenta project. With this umbrella, they are funding several projects for a placenta map project looking (at) the different aspects of placenta physiology,” Schlabritz-Lutsevich said.

“One of the aspects is development of new, rapid non-invasive tests and devices to diagnose the problem prior to something (such) as a disease (happening), because when we see disease it’s almost too late to intervene because the damage has been already done,” she added.

Schlabritz-Lutsevich said there are 3-D and 4-D ultrasound machines, but they are not sensitive enough for particular markers like oxygen consumption.

“Therefore, NIH has a call for proposals to fund this particular type of study so we applied, we partnered with him … and we got this grant,” Schlabritz-Lutsevich added.

She said there are several rapidly developing methods of non-invasive oxygen measurement now.

“This particular measurement is opto-acoustic measurement. … It’s a combination of light and ultrasound (that) measure oxygen non-invasively. This was first developed by Professor Oraevsky.

There is another device that can do standard measurement of oxygenation with this same method, but the machine costs about $500,000, Schlabritz-Lutsevich said. They are also large and not portable.

“Our device is a different concept. That’s why we got funding for this. … If we are successful, then it’s point of care. Practically everybody, each doctor, could use it and will not be so expensive,” she said.

Schlabritz-Lutsevich said she had been looking for a collaborator on this project for a long time. She approached the University of Texas at Austin, but they did not take the Permian Basin campus up on the partnership.

“I didn’t know what to do. I had the proposal written,” she said.

Fortunately, she got help from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and many other faculty, staff, physicians and students.

Schlabritz-Lutsevich noted that in Texas, there is a high maternal mortality rate.

“It’s everywhere in the news and it’s everybody’s concern that we are such a wealthy nation and wealthy state and we have a high maternal mortality rate. Through this, we hope to bring affordable care to women which will allow us to diagnose any problems at a very early stage,” Schlabritz-Lutsevich said.

Schlabritz-Lutsevich said she thinks having the device available is extremely important because it could prevent future complications and having to intervene later.

Regional Dean Dr. Gary Ventolini said it’s very difficult to get these types of NIH grants.

“Usually the larger universities are the ones that receive them. However, the persistence and the vision that she had helped a lot on that. There are more coming, I’m pretty sure,” Ventolini said.

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