January 28, 2009 — The University of Virginia Patent Foundation has licensed technology that could lead to a revolutionary new screening tool for abdominal aortic aneurysm to Ortho Clinical Diagnostics Inc. Discovered by U.Va. inventors, the screening technology could lead to many fewer aneurysm-related deaths.
Currently the 15th-leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for more than 15,000 deaths each year, aortic aneurysm is indicated by significant swelling of the aorta. Especially difficult to diagnose because of their location deep within the abdomen, abdominal aortic aneurysms are typically only detected by chance, when ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance (MR) imaging techniques are performed for other reasons.
Because these imaging techniques are relatively expensive, they are not regularly performed to search for aneurysms, even in high-risk patients. Abdominal aortic aneurysms may also be detected when they become very large and rupture or are in immediate danger of rupturing, in which case emergency surgery is required and is often unsuccessful in saving the patient.
Seeing a need for a more widely available screening tool, an interdisciplinary team of U.Va. researchers and clinicians, led by Dr. Nancy L. Harthun and Dr. Klaus F. Ley, sought to develop an easy, clinical diagnostic test to screen patients for abdominal aortic aneurysm before their conditions become dire. Together with colleagues David M. Smalley, Dr. Ian J. Sarembock and Kristina M. Little, Harthun and Ley identified 119 protein-based biomarkers in the blood's plasma that could help alert physicians to the presence of an aneurysm with a simple blood test.
"Because CT and MR imaging are more expensive, they are not cost-effective screening tools on large populations," said Harthun, associate professor of vascular and endovascular surgery and medical director of the U.Va. Vascular Laboratory. "If we could develop a cost-effective screening tool that could detect aneurysms early, we would significantly reduce aneurysm-related mortality."
Seeking to further develop and ultimately commercialize their technology, Harthun and her collaborators turned to the U.Va. Patent Foundation. The Patent Foundation negotiated a license with Ortho Clinical Diagnostics Inc. last December that would allow testing of the aneurysm biomarkers on a much greater scale.
"These biomarkers could have a significant impact on the diagnosis and treatment of abdominal aortic aneurysm," said Robert S. MacWright, executive director of the U.Va. Patent Foundation. "The U.Va. Patent Foundation is glad to have partnered with Ortho Clinical Diagnostics Inc. to bring a simple blood test for this deadly disease one step closer to reality."
Abdominal aortic aneurysm, also knwn as AAA (pronounced "triple A"), is often described as a "silent killer" because of its lack of symptoms and resulting difficulty in diagnosis. Patients considered high-risk for abdominal aortic aneurysm include older men with a history of cigarette-smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol and with a family history of the disease.
Ortho Clinical Diagnostics is a Johnson & Johnson company.
The U.Va. project was supported by a grant from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation and by the Surgical Therapeutic Advancement Center at U.Va.