For Byron Smith, his graduate-level research was personal. After losing his father to cancer, he was eager to explore ways to make colonoscopy less dreaded and increase the number of people who get screened for Colorectal Cancer each year. As his collaborator and former professor Pietro Valdastri quickly pointed out, early screening is key to saving lives.
“Colon cancer is typically asymptomatic in the early stages,” said Valdastri, “once a patient feels pain, it has most often already metastasized and survival rate is about five-percent. If we can catch it early, before the cancer has spread, a patient’s chance for survival increases to 95-percent.”
But, Valdastri points out, the solution is really quite simple -- make screenings less painful. One way to do that is already widely known in the medical world and being used in some offices. It is to forego the use of air to inflate the colon during colonoscopy, and instead use CO2 for enlargement. CO2 is absorbed 150-times faster by the body and according to the engineers is, “almost painless”. The problem is, it’s expensive. Until now.
Valdastri and Smith have worked closely with Vanderbilt Gastroenterologist Keith Obstein to design a device that can be attached to a standard endoscope in order to administer CO2 during colonoscopy. According to Smith, “The device uses an acid-based solution to generate an effervescent reaction that produces CO2, essentially the same chemicals found in Alka-Seltzer. As the doctor works his way to the cecum, he uses the attachment for inflation. Once he reaches the cecum, he detaches the tube and uses the tool channel as he normally would.”
To bring this new technology to market, Smith formed a new company, EndoInSight. The concept behind the company helped the researchers win a spot in the highly selective Innovation Corps Program, a six-month business accelerator led by the National Science Foundation. With Valdastri serving as academic researcher and Rigved Joshi, CTTC Manager of New Ventures, serving as business mentor, Smith rounds out the EndoInSight Team as entrepreneur. The team will participate in a series of courses and sessions to help build a viable business model. The team will also receive $50,000 as a part of its selection into the I-Corps Program.