A Colorado Springs professor is nearing animal trials for a laser device that could lessen the complications and expense for nasal surgery.
Dr. Michael Larson, El Pomar Chair of Engineering and Innovation and associate vice chancellor for research at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, is working on the device — which would mark the first time a laser has been approved for nasal surgery.
Currently, rhinoplasty, sinus surgery or surgery for a deviated septum requires invasive surgery and a painful aftermath.
The new device would eliminate the need for stitches, which surgeons have to use in any nasal surgery. There is risk inherent with the process: needles can break, requiring X-rays and more surgeries; and splints are needed to keep additional tissue from forming after the surgery.
But Larson’s laser project fuses tissue together, unbinding the collagen and rebinding it. The laser has a light that tells surgeons when the process is complete, minimizing the risk of overheating the tissue and killing it.
“We’ve done studies on horse tissue in the lab,” Larson said. “And the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has indicated they would like to see animal studies before they approve it for studies in people. They just want to make sure the laser does what we say it does.”
No one else is marketing a laser for this kind of surgery, and a company has expressed interest in investing in the device, but Larson is waiting until the trials are done before accepting outside money.
“We want to make sure it does what we say it will do, what it’s done in the lab,” he said. “So we’re working on the next step. And in the long run, we’re hoping that we can spin it off into a company or sell it to a company — we want it to be in Colorado, though.”
The next step will involve a surgeon using the device on live sheep. UCCS is working with Colorado State University and with a surgeon at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
“We expect the trials to start in November,” he said. “And then — well, the sheep will have free nose jobs, if it works like it has in the lab.”
There are about 400,000 nasal surgeries performed in the United States every year. And complications from those surgeries can be expensive and painful. Larson said he believes his device will lower the risks and the recovery time.
“This creates an immediate seal,” he said. “So there will be less pain, less recovery time. There will be no need for stints in the nose or gauze.”
But first, the FDA must approve the device, which is considered for use outside the body, meaning a less strenuous process, but it still can be difficult, Larson said.
“We have been in informal talks with them,” he said. “We haven’t presented them with anything yet. But they are required to respond within 90 days, and they don’t like surprises. If they are aware of what we’re working on, then they can give us guidance to make the formal process easier.”
Larson’s partnership with UCCS is one that is being repeated throughout the state. Colorado’s research institutions have become experts at moving products from the lab to the commercial arena.
“They really have put a lot of focus on technology transfer,” said John Collar, executive director of the Colorado Bioscience Association. “And it’s made a difference.”
Colorado ranked in the second tier of states for bioscience investment five years ago. This year, the state is in the top five.
“We’ve had that perfect storm,” he said. “Universities are working to get technology out, private investments and public involvement all the way to the governor’s office. Life sciences are one of the four pillars of the governor’s economic plan.”