Breathe In, Breathe Out
Although  mechanical ventilation can  be  a life-saving  intervention for patients who  are  unable to  breathe effectively on their  own, automated breathing machines often  put  patients at risk for infection,  pneumonia and death. After just a few days on a ventilator, the respiratory muscle becomes weakened, making it difficult for patients to be weaned from the machine and regain  the ability to breathe independently. When a critically ill patient becomes ventilator-dependent, the  risk of dying increases seven-fold.

To combat the rapid  and  profound atrophy of the diaphragm in patients with respiratory failure, Dr. Joaquin Andres  Hoffer  and  his team at Simon  Fraser University  (SFU) worked  relentlessly over  the  past decade to develop a neurostimulation system designed to exercise and  strengthen the  diaphragm muscle, the  main muscle used for breathing.

“I watched patients struggle to wean from the ventilator,” says Dr. Joaquin Andres. “I realized that electrical ‘pacing’ could help patients regain muscle strength and  endurance.”

While Dr. Hoffer  and  his team conducted extensive pre-clinical  market research on  the  new  device  called the  Lungpacer Diaphragm Pacing  System  (DPS), the  SFU Innovation Office developed a strategic business plan and an intellectual property portfolio for the invention.
The spinout company called Lungpacer Medical, Inc. received an  Expedited Access  Pathway (EAP) designation for  the  DPS from  the  U.S. Food  and  Drug Administration (FDA), becoming the  first Canadian company to win approval through the  program designed to facilitate rapid  patient access to breakthrough technologies.

Dr. Hoffer  credits the  support and  expertise of the  SFU Innovation Office. “Their help  was  essential to us obtaining key grants and the initial investment that allowed the company to hire an experienced management team, move  into its own premises and  finally start flying solo.”

A crucial grant from the  Canadian Institutes of Health  Research made it possible to conduct feasibility trials with 24 mechanically-ventilated patients. The promising trial results may one  day lead  to faster recoveries and  lowered hospitalization costs as patients begin  breathing easier.

To see available technologies from research institutions, click here to visit the AUTM Innovation Marketplace.