When most people hear the word “ultrasound”, the first thought that usually comes to mind is of expectant mothers and grainy fetal images. This conventional type of ultrasound is known as “low-frequency”and results in low-resolution images. Now, two Dalhousie University researchers - Dr. Jeremy Brown, assistant professor at the School of Biomedical Engineering and Dr. Manohar Bance, professor of Otology, Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery with the Faculty of Medicine – are developing a tiny but powerful device that uses “high-frequency” ultrasound to deliver a whole new level of resolution to medical professionals about the condition of small internal structures of the body such as the inner ear.
“High-frequency ultrasound can open new doors to areas of the body that were previously inaccessible,” says Dr. Brown. “The device Dr. Bance and I are developing can provide medical professionals with a clearer picture of the condition of their patients, thereby allowing them to prescribe a more accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan than was possible in the past.”
Measuring approximately two millimetres in diameter, the high-frequency ultrasound pulses and echoes of Dr. Brown’s device are designed to detect damage and abnormalities of the delicate structures of the inner ear in order to provide early prediction and diagnosis of disorders like cholesteatoma, a destructive growth of skin cells that can lead to hearing loss and Ménière’s disease, which causes vertigo, tinnitus and deafness.
With expertise in health sciences technology transfer and a mother with a cholesteatoma, Barbara Campbell, associate director of Springboard Atlantic’s Industry Liaison and Innovation (ILI) office at Dalhousie, was confident about the clinical potential of Dr. Brown’s device and eager to put together a strategy towards commercialization. Campbell helped access funds through Springboard’s Proof of Concept program, which allowed Dr. Brown and Dr. Bance to conduct more evidence-based research on the viability of the device, the results of which built a strong foundation for a successful application with Innovacorp’s Early Stage Commercialization Fund (ESCF). The ESCF award partially funded a market analysis to assess and articulate the need for new high-frequency ultrasound imaging systems. Written by Frost & Sullivan, the market report was a major factor in garnering number one national ranking from the Canadian Institute for Health Research’s Proof of Principle fund as well as sparking the interest of commercial partners.
In addition to authoring the commercialization strategy and assisting with funding applications, Campbell and her office also submitted patent applications and provided licensing and technology transfer expertise. Dalhousie’s ILI is in discussions with multinational partners potentially interested in licensing the rights to Dr. Brown’s groundbreaking technology.