spinal cord
Direct Spinal Therapeutics, a medical device start-up company out of the University of Iowa Neurosurgery Clinic, recently received grant funding of $140,000 from the Iowa Growth Fund in addition to $1 million in funding from a private investor.

The company, founded by Matthew Howard, M.D., and Tim Brennan, M.D., Ph.D., has created a novel device called the I (Iowa) Patch System to be implanted in patients to alter the functions of the spinal cord.

The system involves putting an array of electrodes directly on the surface of the spine, connected to an electric simulator, which will help relieve chronic back pain in patients who injured their back or have had back surgery that did not improve their situation or caused scarring or injury to the nerves. The team hopes that later applications of the device will even allow paralyzed patients to move their extremities again.

While other spinal cord stimulators exist on the market, no other devices are placed directly on the spinal cord. As a result they are only effective on about half the patients, due to the distance and fluids between the device and the spinal cord.

The Direct Spinal Therapeutics team came up with a way to safely put the device directly on the spinal cord.

“This is, from a device standpoint, radically different from any other device that’s used right now,” Howard said. “There’s the potential to have a tremendous impact on patients’ lives.”

The start-up received initial seed funding in 2010 from the UI Office of Research and Economic Development and the UI Research Foundation (UIRF), which assisted in intellectual property management, as well as the University of Virginia Biomedical Innovation Fund.

The UIRF arranged to have Direct Spinal Therapeutics’ CEO Dan O’Connell serve as an entrepreneur-in-residence because of his specialized knowledge of the medical device sector. O’Connell is the managing partner of Virginia-based NeuroVentures, a specialty venture capital fund that invests in emerging biotechnology and medical technology companies. O’Connell received help from UI Tippie College of Business students to conduct market analysis and collaborated with neurosurgery researchers to create a development plan.

The device is currently in the prototype phase and will undergo more FDA testing before it can be tested on humans.

The University of Iowa Research Foundation (UIRF) is a 501C3 corporation that commercializes UI-developed technologies and inventions through licensing and new venture formation, and manages the subsequent revenue stream. The UIRF’s primary functions include identifying and developing new ventures, finding partners for commercializing and intellectual property services. More at https://research.uiowa.edu/uirf/.

The UI Research Foundation is part of the University of Iowa Office of Research and Economic Development, which supports and advances research, scholarship, and creative activity on the campus. Through a broad variety of activities and services, it seeks to play an important role in the underpinning of these creative activities in the public and private sectors of Iowa and beyond. 

By Anne Easker