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UC San Diego nanoengineer receives NIH New Innovator Award to Develop a New Class of Wearable Medical Devices

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Jesse Jokerst, an assistant professor in the Department of NanoEngineering at the University of California San Diego, has received a New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health. Photo by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications.

San Diego, Calif., Oct. 4, 2016 -- Jesse Jokerst, an assistant professor in the Department of NanoEngineering at the University of California San Diego, has received a $2.3 million New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a new class of wearable medical devices that use photoacoustic imaging for non-invasive, real-time and continuous monitoring of therapeutic drug levels in the human body.

The work is aimed at creating a wearable sensor capable of efficiently and accurately monitoring the drug heparin, a blood thinner used in surgery to prevent and treat blood clots.

One of the main challenges with administering and monitoring heparin is that it has a narrow therapeutic window, which is the dose at which the drug is both effective and safe. An overdose of the drug can lead to hemorrhage and bleeding, while an underdose can lead to dangerous blood clots that block blood flow. Incorrect dosage of heparin is the second most common medication error in the ICU and results in multiple deaths annually, Jokerst said.

But existing methods to monitor heparin, which include blood tests, are invasive, time-consuming and suffer from major time lags. They are also incapable of directly measuring heparin’s downstream activation of a clotting factor called thrombin. New methods are needed to not only measure heparin and clotting time, but the effect of heparin on thrombin, Jokerst explained.

In this project, Jokerst will lead efforts to develop a wearable heparin monitoring device that overcomes these limitations. The device will feature “smart catheters” coupled with a novel, hybrid imaging technique called photoacoustic ultrasound, which involves sending a light signal into the body and then analyzing the acoustic signal coming out. This design will enable researchers to do real-time, continuous in vivo imaging of both heparin and the heparin/anti-thrombin complex—without drawing blood samples.

“This work will help make anticoagulation therapy fool-proof and make overdoses impossible by coupling the signal to infusion pumps,” Jokerst said.

Jokerst received an NIH Director's New Innovator Award for his proposal, titled “Therapeutic Drug Monitoring with a Wearable Ultrasound-Based Sensor.” The New Innovator Award is part of the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program supported by the NIH Common Fund, which encourages scientists to pursue highly innovative approaches to major challenges and gaps in biomedical research. Awards support exceptional investigators pursuing bold, high-impact research projects that span the broad mission of the NIH.

Other UC San Diego researchers to receive an award from the NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research program this year are listed below:

New Innovator Award
- Elizabeth Villa, assistant professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Transformative Research Award
- Ethan Bier, professor, Division of Biological Sciences
- Ananda Goldrath, professor, Division of Biological Sciences
- Stephen Hedrick, professor, Division of Biological Sciences

Early Independence Award
- Valentino Gantz, postdoctoral researcher, Division of Biological Sciences

More information on current awardees and the NIH Common Fund High Risk-High Reward Research Program can be found at: http://commonfund.nih.gov/highrisk.

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