Inventor Profile: Changing the Lives of Thousands of Burn Victims

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The University of Virginia Patent Foundation is celebrating its 30th year of dedicated service to the University's faculty, staff and student inventors. In that time, the Patent Foundation has generated more than $36.6 million in revenue for the University and distributed an additional $18.4 million to University inventors and their collaborators

All this week on UVA Today, we will be running profiles of University inventors who were honored by the Patent Foundation this past year.

George T. Rodeheaver, Ph.D.

2008 Edlich-Henderson Inventor of the Year
Plastic Surgery

It’s frightening to think that only 15 years ago burn victims faced often insurmountable risks of infection, even in quality treatment facilities. And patients suffering from chronic wounds, such as diabetic ulcers, pressure ulcers and venous leg ulcers, were out of options.

That was then. Now, we have PluroGel™.

Invented by George T. Rodeheaver, Richard F. Edlich and Sherry Sutton, PluroGel™ is a revolutionary antimicrobial gel designed to reduce the suffering of patients with severe burns and chronic wounds. The topical treatment is unique in that it thickens at high temperatures (such as body temperature) and liquefies at cooler temperatures. As a result, PluroGel™ effectively delivers healing medication when applied to the body but is easily removed by cool water, making it much less painful to remove than other existing therapies, which have to be scraped off.

This groundbreaking technology, for which the U.Va. Patent Foundation received a U.S. patent in 1997, has been used to treat patients throughout the U.Va. Health System. More than 2,000 patients — some referred from up to 400 miles away to receive the treatment — have benefited from the invention.

“The technology has had a dramatic impact so far,” said Rodeheaver, distinguished professor in U.Va.’s Department of Plastic Surgery and director of U.Va.’s Wound Healing Research Laboratory. “The fact is that in our burn center we have been able to eliminate infection, which was the leading cause of death 15 years ago. And we have had great success in healing chronic wounds, many of which had not healed for numerous years" using conventional treatments.

In honor of Rodeheaver’s contributions in advancing this innovative wound-healing technology, which he developed over more than three decades of research in the U.Va. Health System, the U.Va. Patent Foundation named him the 2008 Edlich-Henderson Inventor of the Year.

“Each year, the Patent Foundation selects a U.Va. researcher whose contributions have had an important impact on society as well as their field as the Edlich-Henderson Inventor of the Year,” said Robert S. MacWright, executive director of the Patent Foundation.

“This year,” he added,  “Dr. Rodeheaver was chosen for this top honor because of his work to reduce the suffering and improve the recovery of burn victims and patients with chronic wounds. This work has made a big difference for patients at the U.Va. Health System, and Dr. Rodeheaver’s continued efforts will bring its benefits to patients everywhere.”

Rodeheaver, the Richard F. Edlich Professor of Biomedical Research, said he is especially thrilled to have been selected as the winner of an award named in part for his friend, co-inventor and long-time collaborator. “This award is not only an honor for me but also a tribute to Dr. Edlich, who has made so many contributions to emergency medicine over the years,” he says.

Building on his success achieved within the U.Va. Health System, Rodeheaver has worked diligently to commercialize the technology through a start-up company, PluroGen™ Therapeutics Inc., which he founded with associate professor Adam J. Katz, also of the Department of Plastic Surgery. PluroGen™ is currently seeking Federal Drug Administration approval of the product so that it can be made available commercially to the public, beyond the University hospital.

After 36 years at the University and having written more than 200 journal articles, Rodeheaver said he continues to enjoy pushing forward on the frontiers of science. According to the faculty member-cum-inventor and now entrepreneur — who considers himself to be “old-school” — technology transfer is an exciting new path for his research.

“It is a new paradigm for me; it’s unique and exciting,” he said. “Entrepreneurship in particular is something I see as a brand-new adventure.”

Rodeheaver was honored May 19 at the Patent Foundation’s annual awards banquet, which also celebrated those U.Va. inventors who received U.S. patents and copyrights in 2007.