Digital Innovation Hub

Innovation in Diagnostics from Dr. Sophia Koo

Diagnosing the Problem…

Sophia Koo is, in her own words, a “home grown” Brigham physician. She completed medical school at Harvard, and subsequently, her residency in the Department of Infectious Disease at the Brigham. Throughout the early stages of her career in Infectious Disease, Koo was constantly reminded of the poor diagnostics for the diseases that doctors like herself treat nationwide. She describes the diagnostics for infectious disease doctors as “empiric therapy” – mostly consisting of doctors taking educated guesses at the patient’s condition, prescribing medication, and seeing what happens. Needless to say, Koo identified this significant issue in infectious disease treatment, which eventually sparked her idea for a new diagnostic method for aspergillosis, and potentially other diseases.

The Inspirational Spark…

After seeing an inspiring speech about an interesting new use for a breathalyzer, Koo immediately understood the potential of such a device as it applies to infectious disease diagnosis. Fungal infections leave a very clear signature in the breath, and Koo was very aware of this fact at the time – even joking that “Hippocrates could supposedly smell infections on a patient’s breath.” Weeks later, she approached the speaker – who already had a similar pilot program going – and began working to repurpose his device to detect invasive aspergillosis simply through having the patient breathe into a breathalyzer. Koo describes, “the device is essentially smelling something that isn’t supposed to be there.”

Time to build…

Koo recalls it taking around four years to move from the inception of her idea to her current state. She says that her process began in a traditional way; she was granted NIH funding to prove that her device could actually function properly, and this work took around two years. At that point Koo was able to file her patent and began the process of starting a company. She notes, “I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of a timeline, but it was definitely shorter than I expected.”

It works! What’s next…

Koo attributes much of the success of her device’s campaign to the help of the Innovation Hub. She notes, “I wouldn’t have known what to do with the idea without the iHub’s help.” She continued, “there is a huge barrier between ‘academic’ and ‘business builder’ and the iHub can really help in bridging that gap.” Koo also commented on the lack of support for clinicians/researchers after getting Intellectual Property – a step in the commercialization process that she felt the iHub could help facilitate. Koo remarks, “there will always be a lot of ‘learning by doing,’ but the iHub can certainly help map [the process] for people looking to act on an idea.”

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