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physician inventors flock to ohio

Dr. Errol O. Singh, Founder and CEO of Percuvision in Westerville. Photos Ben French
Dr. Errol O. Singh, Founder and CEO of Percuvision in Westerville. Photos Ben French
It's no coincidence that many health care inventions are pioneered by physicians. The extraordinary pressures doctors face in trying to heal patients and save lives each day can also lead to brilliant insights into ways to improve modern health care.
"The clinicians who care for patients every day have tremendous insight into pressing needs in patient care," says Patricia Eisenhardt, Manager of Commercialization at the OhioHealth Research and Innovation Institute. "I think that sometimes in the traditional research driven setting, the inventors are in their laboratories. They're in the universities. They aren't necessarily at the bedsides. They don't see the struggles that the patients face and the caregivers face every single day."
The Buckeye state is brimming with doctors who are continually seeking out ways to make treatment more effective and comfortable for patients, easier for caregivers and more efficient for hospitals.
Enter seasoned urologist Dr. Errol Singh, whose groundbreaking DirectVision device is revolutionizing the routine practice of catheterization for men. Although the majority of catheters are placed without incident, reports Singh, 10 to 20 percent result in complications that may include minor discomfort, infections and even life-threatening injury. The DirectVision instrument replaces the heretofore "blind" catheter with a lighted device and monitor so caregivers can clearly see the path to the bladder.
"We needed to place vision in the hands of the initial provider of catheterization," says Singh. To bring that idea to fruition, he's enlisted the support of the OhioHealth hospital network, and monetary support from the State of Ohio as well as a number of private Ohio-based angel investors.
In the fourteen short months DirectVision has been available on the market via Singh's 16-employee company PercuVision, it's already in use at hospitals across the state to the boon of clinicians and patients alike.
"Instead of helping just one patient at a time," says Singh, who still maintains his private practice, "this is an opportunity to help hundreds of thousands of patients because this is a problem that occurs globally."
Singh is joined by a host of other OhioHealth inventing physicians such as Director of Orthopedic Research at Grant Medical Center Dr. Ray Wasielewski, whose JointVue Vision-D Plus uses a noninvasive ultrasound technique to inspect a patient's joints, replacing sometimes painful biopsy methods and radioactive x-rays. The device is at clinical trial.
Much further down the long and complex road of bringing a new product to market is Riverside Hospital's Chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology Dr. David Sybert, whose Linebacker product simplifies yet another common procedure: the securing of an intravenous (IV) tube with a revolutionary yet simple product that replaces medical tape with a hook and loop closure. Linebacker increases patient comfort while decreasing potential dislodgements. Originally founded in 2006, Linebacker Inc. (formerly Sybermed) is fielding sales from across the globe.
Like OhioHealth's Research and Innovation Institute, other Ohio hospitals have offices and organizations that advocate for their attending staff and their innovative ideas. Cleveland Clinic Innovations employs more than 70 people who help Clinic employees turn great ideas into marketable products with teams that focus on everything from funding to incubation.
The Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center also champions physician and staff inventors via the organization's Center for Technology Commercialization. There, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Eric Wall's ideas were the impetus for two new projects: a scoliosis treatment being developed by Spineform Inc., and a painless injection device, also in the development stages. Bexion Pharmaceuticals is championing a new targeted cancer therapy that was the brainchild of geneticist Dr. Xiaoyang Qi. And in a joint effort, Drs. Tracy Glauser (neurologist), John Pestian (computational medicine/informatics), Sander Vinks (pharmacologies) and Rick Wenstrup (geneticist) were instrumental in the discovery of AssureRx Health's new pharmacogenetic technology that helps doctors fine-tune the usage of psychiatric medications.
But why is Ohio a magnet for such an eclectic and talented array of innovation? OhioHealth's Eisenhardt cites the state's advanced hospital networks.
"Ohio has one of the most active hospital communities and one of the largest and most robust healthcare provider communities," says Eisenhardt, "which means we have a great environment in which to run clinical trials." She adds that such trials are critical for the development of new medical products, which include milestones such as getting through the FDA regulatory review process. The OhioHealth network alone, which includes eight hospitals and more than ten affiliate organizations, performs approximately 500 clinical trials each year.
"Of course we need a diverse population of patients in which we can test products to understand how well they're going to work in mainline care," says Eisenhardt. "Ohio has a diverse population and a great clinical trials network."
Accessibility to light science industry is another Ohio draw. Eisenhardt points to Ohio-based resources such as Ohio State University's industrial design engineers and area manufacturers of polymer-based medical devices. To that end, Singh's DirectVision products are housed on a medical workstation made by Columbus-based Capsa Solutions.
Lastly there is the matter of funding. Third Frontier's Entrepreneur Signature Program, says Eisenhardt, which is operated by regional affiliates such as TechColumbus and a network of partners, offers teams with new products up to $50,000 in grant money "to clear some fundamental milestones that are critical to determining whether or not a business proposition is robust enough to grow and succeed as a full blown company."
For those that chin the proverbial bar such as Singh, opportunities don't stop there. In 2011, not only did the Ohio Department of Development issue PercuVison a $1.4 million commercialization loan, Third Frontier awarded the business a $1 million grant. Hence, Singh's plans to aggressively market DirectVision and to eventually expand the concept of "lighting the way" for nasal gastric tubes, which are now placed blindly, are that much more in focus as he seeks even broader partnerships and funding. 
"Just like with healthcare in general, a small proportion of the population incurs the most significant amount of the cost," explains Singh, adding that five percent of the population accounts for 50 percent of healthcare costs in the United States. Likewise, he adds, "a small percentage of patients with difficult catheterizations account for the majority of cost associated with catheterization.
"Our data shows, conservatively, that we will save the country about $350 million annually by addressing this problem."

All photos by Ben French
Photos 1-5: Dr. Errol Singh of Percuvision.
Photo 6: Patricia Eisenhardt, Manager of Commercialization at the OhioHealth Research and Innovation Institute
Photo 7: Scott Winfield has invented several elegant and simple devices for use in medical simulation training at OhioHealth.

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