Dr. Ruey-Kang Chang, pediatric cardiologist, was tired of seeing babies with a delayed diagnosis of heart disease. He decided to do something about it, and literally went to the drawing board to invent ways to help them.
Educated and trained in public health, Dr. Chang uses his keen mind and applies his training to clinical problems. Dr. Chang, an affable man, perks up even more when he imagines the number of lives his devices can potentially save. The clinical problems he's most concerned with are infants born with critical congenital heart disease that is not diagnosed in time for proper treatment; hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in competitive athletes; and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which strikes some 2,500 infants in the U.S. each year. His background prepared him for a career of collecting data on problems, and indeed that is how he started. Now, however, he couples his medical practice with a new role -- that of President and CEO of QT Medical, which will work with LA BioMed to bring his inventions into the clinic.
How have Harbor-UCLA Pediatrics and LA BioMed helped you make the transition from researcher to inventor?
LA BioMed is very good at fostering entrepreneurial spirits. They provide a lot of support. There's a lot of mentoring from senior investigators and colleagues around you. The Grants and Contracts office offers outstanding services for submitting and managing grants. The Technology Transfer office helps secure intellectual property, helps me find connections, especially for technology and business connections. Also Rodney Franks (Vice President in charge of Development at LA BioMed) and public relations have been very helpful.
I am looking for qualified individuals to run the business, so that I can focus on research and product development.
Can you describe your inventions?
In the last several years, we have worked on an electrocardiogram (ECG) system for screening newborns for long QT syndrome. This is the world’s most compact 12-lead ECG system designed for newborn babies. It will probably also be the first ECG system that parents or patients without ECG training can do at home with simple instructions.
We have also worked on a pulse oximeter for screening of critical congenital heart disease. We are currently seeking an investment in order to bring this product to market in the next 12 months.
LA BioMed's Annual Report mentioned a SIDS monitor we are working on. The prototype has been built, and we are just about ready to test it on 20 infants in the sleep lab in the next few months.
And then there is the Surfactant Delivery System and Emergency Airway for premature babies. It is an airway device that can be used for surfactant deliveries that will be used on premature babies. We're still working on that. We have not secured funding for that, but that's another potential area where we can help newborn babies, especially those born prematurely.
Is there a device that you've invented that may be the 'big one,' that will save a lot of lives?
That is the SIDS monitor. There are about 2000 occurrences of SIDS per year. I don't think the monitor will prevent all SIDS, but I think it can have the potential to save several hundred lives if it is really effective and finally brought to the market. We have to prove it in a clinical trial.
Other products like the Pulse Oximeter for screening of critical congenital heart disease certainly have the potential to save hundreds of lives. Long QT syndrome for example -- affects approximately 2 or 3 thousand babies per year in the US. By picking it up early, you can start medical therapay and prevent lots of problems like seizures, fainting episodes, and even sudden death.
These are not huge numbers by the standards that we're used to seeing in adult medicine, but in pediatrics, a few hundred lives or a few thousand lives in any of these diseases is quite significant.
What is the biggest challenge you're facing?
Turning an idea to a product then to a business is the biggest challenge. For me at least, inventing is easy. The business part is difficult. I think it's not hard to come up with an idea to work with to initial proof of concept. The hard part is putting it out in the market.
Why do you think inventing is so easy for you?
It's always been a hobby of mine to play with technology and gadgets, tinker with stuff, even now I still do that in my garage on weekends. Keen observation and "outside the box" thinking are the keys to invention.
What I've done for these inventions is I've combined my background and training and research together with my interest in technology and devices and put them together to look for many applications for new technology that can be used in infants, newborns, and children. I think it's an area that in the medical device business that has overall been overlooked and ignored but is nevertheless important. I keep my focus on technology and devices for small children.
You wear a lot of hats as a professor of pediatrics, cardiologist, researcher, and now businessman. How long do you expect to keep this pace?
I don't intend to keep too many hats – I like to keep it relatively simple. Once the business takes off and I can find a business team to run it, I do intend to come back to what I am more comfortable doing – keeping my scientist and researcher hat. We're searching for people with a business background to take an executive role so I can transition to the scientific and medical officer role of the company and continue to be working as an inventor.
What advice do you have for young pediatricians on time management?
If you don't sleep then you have more time (laughing). Managing time is all about prioritizing tasks. You have to decide which task is the most important and finish it first, and finally you get to the ones that you have more time to finish later.
When will these inventions be available to the public?
I hope the Newborn Pulse Oximeter will be on the market soon. Right now we have a prototype that we can test but we're looking for an industrial design and need testing in order to get FDA approval which can take probably another year or so. So I hope in 2015 we will have the Pulse Oximeter device on the market and the ECG for long QT syndrome screening hopefully in 2-3 years.