By Rachel Leisemann
Twenty-two million Americans diagnosed with asthma may soon have a new, fast and accurate method to detect breathing changes and get treatment – and all at an affordable price.
Traditional, quality asthma-monitors are expensive, costing between $30,000 to $40,000, making them accessible to some scientists, but not most physicians and asthma sufferers.
UW-Madison researchers are among those who use the expensive models and they would like to be able to use a cheaper model, assuming cheaper is also just as good (or better) than what they’re used to.
Jeff Williams may be able to offer them just that. After obtaining his doctorate from UW-Madison and working in the science industry for many years, he wanted to apply his knowledge to diagnostics.
He developed an idea for a portable asthma monitor that would be handheld, easy to use, portable and affordable.
Williams is one of the 24 finalists in this year’s Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. This annual contest is to encourage Wisconsin entrepreneurs in the creation, start-up and early-growth stages of high-tech businesses.
As the CEO and president of Platypus Technologies, Williams has been working with gas technology for years and also has experience with diagnostics.
Platypus Technologies is a life science company that combines nano-scale materials science with liquid crystal technology. Williams said breath analysis is an emerging opportunity in science and one of its attractions is that it is non-invasive for the patient and “one of the easiest samples you can get from a patient.”
Because of this ease of getting samples from patients, Williams said it will be relatively easy to enroll patients in clinical trials. Similar products have already been approved by the FDA, so Platypus will only need to submit forms showing the new meter is equivalent to current products to have the new meter approved by the FDA.
Williams said the main difference between the new asthma meter and current products is that “the current products are much more expensive and are not as portable as the products we are developing.”
The portable asthma monitor utilizes liquid crystal technology to measure exhaled nitric oxide, a biomarker of the airway inflammation associated with asthma. When nitric oxide is present, the liquid crystals would change alignment and produce a signal that could be sensed electronically.
The monitor would consist of three parts: a meter to convert the signal produced by the crystals to a digital output, a replaceable breathing tube and a liquid crystal sensor.
Williams said that he envisions the first version to be about the size of a telephone handset with later versions probably being only twice the size of a cell phone.
Normal nitric oxide levels for a human range from seven to nine parts per billion. In a person having an asthma attack, this increases to 30 to 40 parts per billion, or higher. If someone had levels of nitric oxide above 20 parts per billion, a physician would take action, like changing the patients medications, Williams said.
He is anticipating the portable asthma monitor to cost less than $200, with the disposable, one-time use breathing tube, each costing $5 to $6.
He would like to move to the consumer market within a few years because it would be more cost-effective for patients to monitor themselves, than for a physician to monitor them.
In his business plan abstract, Williams said, “regular use of an asthma monitor could reduce medication intake, physician and ER visits and workforce impact due to fewer sick leaves; lowering healthcare costs.”
The portable asthma monitor is being run through Platypus Technologies and Williams said the company has provided resources for the monitor plan. He has also gotten funding for his plan with grants, about $16 million. He expects total development costs to be $24 million.
Williams said that this product “fits into the long-term strategy” of Platypus Technologies and that it “could become our business.”
Platypus Technologies (www.platypustech.com) markets other products in the life science markets, but Williams says that “they don’t have the real potential that this asthma product does.”
Williams knows there is some competition in the asthma industry, but says that this new asthma monitor can help millions of asthma sufferers who need a convenient and affordable way to monitor their asthma.
Leisemann is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.