Breadth of Impact: How a MRI Physicist is sweeping the Boston Healthcare Innovation Scene

On a makeshift wooden bed frame in a basement laboratory, sits the prototype for the Lung Density Monitor (LDM) or “ventilation stethoscope” that Dr. Samuel Patz of Brigham & Women’s Hospital and his team are crafting. Their idea is to make a portable magnetic resonance device that provides functional information on the lungs. They are planning to place the LDM in a portable insert or slide board to be placed underneath a supine patient. The portability of this device is essential for ICU patients because it is oftentimes very risky to move these patients to another location where a traditional MRI or CT scanner is located. Patz’s recent award of a Boston Biomedical Innovation Center (B-BIC) grant, however, will be used towards achieving the critical last step of prototype development – active noise cancellation. Active noise cancellation will allow the LDM to be used without a radiofrequency (RF) room. This will then allow the LDM to be deployed at the bedside.

The LDM will be the first portable MR device designed to measure regional pulmonary mechanics – such information will greatly assist clinicians in setting therapeutically effective and safe ventilator pressures for ICU patients. The need that this device addresses is the very high mortality rate of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The New England Journal of Medicine cites that regional lung over-distention is a factor in injury and that there is a lack of a clinically acceptable method of measuring over-distention. Patz’s product could change the standards of respiratory care management as clinicians know it today.

The inception of the LDM took decades to realize and intersects with different colleagues and interests of Patz. A physicist by training, Patz started his work at BWH as a MRI researcher when the first scanner was acquired in 1983. He partnered with other fellow scientists, in particular Dr. Mirko Hrovat of Mirtech, Inc. to develop the idea of making the MRI portable and homogenous. It was not until his fascination with the lung began did the pulmonary aspect of the device arise. According to Patz, current MRI of the lungs is weak because unlike solid organs they are comprised mostly of air and offer less of an MRI signal. Having collaborated with pulmonary experts and an ICU physician, the way in which the LDM can be used clinically has evolved. Before him, the use of low field portable magnet designs never seriously crossed over into healthcare. The original clinical intent was for the LDM to be used in the NICU for premature infants and so it must first be proven viable in adults. The LDM can also be applied to the diagnosis of pulmonary edema and clearly could be a versatile tool for clinicians.

The innovation process is not an overnight occurrence, as Patz himself knows well. B-BIC supports innovators like Patz by shaping technology not ready for commercialization by providing funding, project management with industry experts, and skills development courses. Regarding the role of Brigham Innovation Hub as an innovation support system in service to its clinicians and scientists, he affirmed the strong need for support and resources for new innovators at BWH. Patz serves as an exemplar for junior innovators who want to follow suit of his inventive and entrepreneurial spirit.

For any further questions on his work, contact Dr. Patz at patz@bwh.harvard.edu .