The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) has reached an agreement with other institutions that will allow it to take the next step in commercially developing an innovative medical imaging system that uses night vision technology to tackle a common side effect of cancer treatment.
Officials in the Office of Technology Management at UTHealth have consolidated all patents and patent applications to the radiation-free system developed by UTHealth research scientist Eva Sevick, and collaborators.
Currently being studied in U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved clinical trials, the imaging system is being used to learn more about the lymphatic system and its role in disease. Sometimes called the body's second circulatory system, the lymphatic system transports everything from immune cells to blood components while playing a critical role in the immune system and maintaining fluid balance. Comparatively speaking, little is known about the lymphatic system and accurate imaging remains an obstacle, says Sevick, professor and Cullen Chair of Molecular Medicine at UTHealth's Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases.
Cancer treatments, including associated surgeries, can damage or destroy the lymphatic system and lead to a condition called lymphedema, which is associated with limb swelling and tissue fibrosis.
"Use of this system may allow clinicians to diagnose damage to a patient's lymphatic system well before symptoms develop. As a result, doctors using this system may be able to more accurately determine when to place patients on a different therapeutic regimen in order to avoid some of the more extreme symptoms from lymphedema," Sevick says.
Lymphedema occurs in 0.6 percent of live births, according to the Lymphatic Research Foundation; however, most acquire it as result of surgery, infection or trauma that interferes with the lymphatic system. Approximately 30 percent of breast cancer survivors develop lymphedema, according to the LRF.
The 19 patents and patent applications covering the system were previously held by a total of four separate academic institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Purdue University, Texas A&M University and UTHealth. UTHealth recently assumed management of the entire portfolio. Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas A&M University System signed an agreement with UTHealth to make the consolidation of the patent portfolio a reality and to make the entire portfolio available for commercial development. During Sevick's five years with Texas A&M and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station, she was granted several of these patents.
"This agreement provides a great example of local academic institutions working together to bundle intellectual property around an important, innovative technology to make it more attractive to commercial investment. We look forward to working with a commercial partner to get this technology into the clinic," says Bruce D. Butler, vice president for research and technology at UTHealth.
The system involves micro doses of fluorescent dyes and specially modified near infrared cameras. With the aid of the light sensitive cameras, Sevick and her colleagues can observe a fluorescent dye as it works its way through the lymphatic system, indicating valve behavior and flow dynamics. The fluorescent light emission can be seen through the skin by the camera.
In contrast to systems that use computed tomography (CT) scanners or positron emission tomography imagers, the cameras used in this system are relatively inexpensive and easy to use, Sevick says. Additionally, the contrast dyes used in this system are non-radioactive and can generate images at micro dosing levels. The ability to administer micro doses dramatically reduces the potential for side effects to the patient from the dyes and facilitates approval of the technology through the regulatory process, she says.
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