Dr. Thourani and Colleagues' Start-Up Company Designs New Cardiac Surgery Device and Receives Honors

February 2011

Apica Cardiovascular was established in 2009 as a medical device start-up and partnership between the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Emory University School of Medicine. The company's founders are Vinod Thourani, MD, Associate Director of Emory's Structural Heart Program; the Georgia Institute of Technology's Jorge Jimenez, PhD, and Ajit Yoganathan, PhD, the Wallace H. Coulter Distinguished Faculty Chair in Biomedical Engineering; and company CEO James Green. Apica recently received a sizable corporate investment in its first project, a system that simplifies and standardizes the technique for opening and closing the beating heart during cardiac surgery. The company has also been chosen as "Emory University’s Start-up Company of 2010" by Emory's Office of Technology Transfer (OTT).

Designed by Drs. Thourani, Yoganathan and Jimenez with the intent of reducing bleeding of the left ventricular apex, the new device consists of a conduit that allows it to be securely attached to the beating heart. Surgeons can then deliver therapeutic devices, such as heart valves or left ventricular assist devices, into the beating heart without loss of blood or exposure to air. Once a therapeutic device has been delivered and surgery is complete, the system closes and seals the access site with an implant, eliminating the need for sutures. A series of pre-clinical studies testing the functionality of the device have been completed, with further product development and European regulatory approval being the next step.

"Minimizing the incision size to gain access to the beating heart and not using sutures reduces bleeding, recovery time and heart tissue damage," says Dr. Thourani. "This device could also enable more patients to have access to procedures for valve disease and end-stage heart failure since it ratchets up the minimally invasive factor and doesn't require stopping the heart."

In early February, OTT informed the company that it had been chosen as the central honoree at its annual "Celebration of Technology and Innovation." The awards ceremony will be at the Emory Conference Center on March 10. Over the past two decades, Emory has launched 51 start-up companies through OTT and uses any funds received from the start-up companies' technology transfer successes for a variety of programs in research and science education.

In describing his motivation for developing the company, Dr. Thourani said: "It remains critical for physician scientists to identify risk factors that influence increased patient morbidity or mortality and to then collaborate with engineers or other basic scientists on inventions that can address these negative factors. Such translational research processes are integral to the improvement of outcomes in high risk surgical patients."