Catherine Abee working at the VA Pittsburgh Health System https://www.pitsburgh.va.gov as a respiratory therapist, envisioned developing a device to warm an area on the patient’s body when testing for the amount of oxygen in the patient’s bloodstream.
She thought since the human body requires and regulates a specific balance of oxygen in the blood, there should be a way to warm the measurement site in order to improve blood flow to obtain a more accurate reading. She worked on the invention, a heat-enhanced pulse oximeter, which could be attached to fingers, forehead, foot, ears, or toes.
The VA’s Technology Transfer Program was contacted to assist Abee to assist https://www.research.va.gov/programs/tech_transfer/default.cfm. This program assists researchers and other VA employees by licensing protected VA technologies to companies that would make and sell these inventions and technologies to the public.
In 2018, Abee’s invention was adopted as one of the seven first year products when the new Technology Transfer Assistance Project (TTAP) an initiative within the Technology Transfer Program, was formed.
TTAP’s goal is to bring VA discoveries closer to public use by supporting the creation of a working prototype and by consulting on pathways for commercialization. The VA’s Office of R&D provides funds to TTAP in order for TTAP to fund the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) https://www.herl.pitt.edu. HERL, a VA facility involved in research, development and testing and is now building a second generation prototype of Abee’s device.
Projects developed at HERL include wheelchair technologies, advanced prostheses, and other innovative systems to help improve the quality of life for people with disabilities such as lost limbs and spinal injuries.
HERL engineers have produced a viable device that is ready for licensing. So far, two companies have approached the VA with an interest in licensing the device, reports, Dr. John Kaplan, Director of the Technology Transfer Program.
As HERL Director Dr. Rory Copper explained, “A lot of clinicians in the VA have ideas for solutions to provide medical care more effectively with patients, but they may not have the means to turn their solutions into reality. HERL makes it possible for veterans to introduce their ideas and solutions that will help the medical community but also make it possible for the VA to provide cutting edge care.”