More than 440 million adults worldwide have diabetes, according to the World Health Organization, a figure that has multiplied since 1990. In addition to vascular problems, this chronic disease leads to kidney failure, forcing the patient to undergo dialysis. The fistulas used to connect the blood vessels to the filtering machines sometimes break down, so new fistulas have to be fitted, with the inconvenience to the patient and the expense to the health system. On the other hand, vascular operations to repair blocked arteries are not always carried out, due to the patient's physical conditions, which make it inadvisable to enter the operating room. This can lead to the amputation of a limb.
In 2014, while studying a master's degree in bioengineering, the London-based Romanian, Sorin Popa, decided to improve the living conditions of people forced to undergo dialysis or suffering from vascular diseases. "I developed some prototypes and tested them in the laboratory," he recalls. Then he began to raise funds to develop the technology and go through preclinical studies. Today, his ePATH platform makes it possible to reduce the number of vascular operations and the risk of infection, while improving the quality of life of patients. This technology has made him one of the winners of Innovators Under 35 Europe from MIT Technology Review.
ePATH replaces the current arteriovenous fistulas (AVF) that join the veins and arteries of the arm and are then connected to dialysis machines. The technology also works to unblock coronary occlusions less invasively than current techniques. The device consists of a synthetic tube with a needle whose center is an electric field that helps connect or unblock blood vessels, as needed.
The electric field generates a signal that doctors detect on the screen of the ePATH system to make the needle work better. The precision of the technology makes the procedure less harmful to the patient. Popa estimates that each year his invention can be used in 110,000 vascular procedures and 640,000 dialysis fistulas worldwide.
His company, Pathfinder Medical (formerly known as Stent Tek Ltd.), has already patented the technology. The next steps are to conduct clinical studies, think about marketing, and close a funding round before the end of the year (they have already raised about 6.9 million euros). This is not the only plan for the future, Popa explains. "We have identified other applications," such as the installation of baipases. That's why the team (nine people they are "very proud of") sees ePATH as "a platform with multiple potential indications in very different vascular applications."
The Co-Founder and CEO of Leuko and member of the Innovators Under 35 2019 jury, Carlos Castro, considers Popa a "supersolid candidate" and that his proposal is "very convincing and clear" for an "uncovered need." In addition, he highlights the team of clinical and business partners interested in implementing this technology.
By José Manuel Blanco
Translation: Brian Bostwick