On Dec 3, 2013, MedStar Inventor Services, in collaboration with Cleveland Clinic Innovations, signed a deal with InnoVital Systems of Beltsville, Md., to license patent rights for a device that potentially could make it easier for patients with severe lung and neuromuscular diseases to breathe. The deal was the result of a Healthcare Innovation Alliance between MedStar Health and Cleveland Clinic Innovations – the first of its kind when it was initiated two years ago and now one of six such alliances nationwide.
The device is called InVent Diaphragm Assist Device. Its inventor is William Krimsky, MD, director of the Center for Interventional Pulmonology at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center in Baltimore.
Krimsky knew that a mechanical assist device could be a breakthrough for his patients with seriously impaired lung function. So, he brought his idea to MedStar’s Inventor Services (MIS). MIS assessed the commercialization potential of the invention and decided to file for patent protection. MIS and Dr. Krimsky decided that the most efficient development path was to partner with an existing engineering company. Through contacts at the University of Maryland, Clark School of Engineering, MIS contacted engineers at TechnoSciences Inc. (TSi), a defense engineering company, who have numerous inventions for the defense industry. Together, they realized that TSi’s artificial muscle technology, which is used to control helicopter blades and move a robot’s mechanical arms, could be the basis for this new medical device. TSi created a new entity, Innovital Systems to commercialize medical devices.
The implanted device can mechanically assist the diaphragm, the large muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen and controls breathing. The device, which can be thought of as an implantable ventilator, can supplement natural human physiology by assisting the diaphragm in drawing air into the lungs. It is a pulmonary analogue to ventricular assist devices, which have revolutionized care for patients with heart failure.
The device could greatly improve quality of life for critically ill patients who face impending pulmonary failure. Instead of being placed on a ventilator, they could remain at home and have the ability to go out with family and friends. Candidates for the device include patients with neuromuscular diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), muscular dystrophy, interstitial lung disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“When the Healthcare Innovation Alliance, including MedStar Health was established, the goal was to extend Cleveland Clinic Innovations’ model to assist alliance members in bringing transcendent ideas to the marketplace in order to extend and improve patient life,” Thomas J. Graham, MD, chief innovation officer at Cleveland Clinic and Justice Family Chair in Medical Innovation, said in a news release. “This accomplishment represents the type of activity that we anticipated, and it is gratifying to see these groundbreaking ideas advance toward commercialization.”
"Precocious." William Krimsky, M.D., said that was the word his parents used to describe him as a child growing up in Philadelphia. "My Mom would find household appliances left in pieces all over the floor. Once I took something apart and figured out how it worked, why would I bother to put it back together?" he laughed. "It was always important to me to see how things worked, and as I grew, it became a question of 'Why are we doing it this way and how can we make it better?'"
Dr. Krimsky remembers developing a system to rotate headlamps as a child—the kind they now use in high-end automobiles. After college, he learned to fly and would barter his services to repair helicopters in order to receive free gas and free flying time.
Still a pilot, these days Dr. Krimsky is also board-certified in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine and critical care medicine, and is the Director for the Center for Interventional Pulmonology at MedStar Franklin Square. He’s been turning his ideas into inventions long before joining MedStar Health in 2004. "Going it alone was a tough road,” he revealed, “very expensive and very time-consuming."
When he heard about MedStar Inventor Services from his colleagues, Dr. Krimsky admitted there was an initial hesitancy on his part. "But I talked with the team and discovered they really know their stuff. It was an incredibly pleasant surprise!" He was most impressed by Inventor Services' ability to mobilize resources along the way. "Their timelines are detailed and realistic and the team is very responsive with great follow up—nothing gets lost along the way."
Dr. Krimsky's other inventions include a new device to cool patients to preserve brain function, "smart" endotracheal tubes and catheters, a breathing aid for COPD patients and an ergonomic solution for endoscopists. His philosophy is to use his personal experience and observations at work to fix a particular surgical problem or improve medical equipment. "Why settle for a '7' when we can make it a '10?'" he remarked.
While Dr. Krimsky feels coming up with the new inventions is "the fun part," he appreciates the benefits offered by MedStar Inventor Services. Based on his previous experiences, he feels Inventor Services provides "a very productive relationship and has allowed me to explore other projects, as I no longer have to oversee all the details of the work."
When asked about his advice for new MedStar Health inventors, Dr. Krimsky urged them to jump right in and begin submitting ideas. "There’s no reason to hesitate," he remarked, "MedStar Inventor Services gives you a great starting point and enough resources to get you started out right!"