University of Arizona Startup, ElectroSonix Sees Future for Heart Imaging Technology

Sarver Heart Center member Dr. Russell Witte pursued the idea of using ultrasound as a way to map electrical signals in the brain accurately without need for invasive techniques. As his research developed, he realized the technology could be applied to nearly all parts of the body relying on electrical signals, including the heart.

Acoustoelectric cardiac imaging, a new, noninvasive cardiac imaging technology developed at the University of Arizona, has been ElectroSonix logolicensed to startup ElectroSonix, LC.

Russell S. Witte, PhD, College of Medicine – Tucson and BIO5 Institute professor of medical imaging, optical sciences and biomedical engineering, developed the patented technology that provides improvements over current cardiac imaging technologies such as electroanatomical mapping, which provides low-resolution images that make it difficult to pinpoint the exact location of arrhythmias.

Video illustrating how the ElectroSonix technology functions can be found at link on this image: cardiac imaging, or ACI, works by emitting ultrasound waves that interreact with the heart’s electrical currents to produce a map of electrical activity. The imaging technique allows physicians to acquire precise, real-time data before, during and after cardiac ablation procedures, which are used to scar or destroy tissue that is allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm.

The ability of acoustoelectric imaging to map electrical systems in the body makes the technology applicable to nearly all bodily functions that rely on electrical signals. Dr. Witte, whose doctorate in bioengineering included a focus on neural engineering, began his research by looking at the electrical signals in the brain.

Dual MD/PhD student Alexander Alvarez, Dr. Russell Witte and Sonia Vohnout. (Photo: Eddie San Juan/Tech Launch Arizona)“One of the things that we learned was that in order to look at the brain electrically at a resolution on a scale of millimeters and milliseconds, you needed to use invasive tools,” said Dr. Witte, who is also a member of the UArizona Sarver Heart Center.

Dr. Witte pursued the idea of using ultrasound as a way to map electrical signals in the brain accurately without the need for invasive techniques. As his research has developed, he realized the technology could be applied to nearly all parts of the body relying on electrical signals, including the heart.

In 2013, he engaged Tech Launch Arizona, the office that commercializes inventions developed through university research, to maximize the impact of his work by bringing the new heart imaging technique to market.

Alexander Alvarez and Sonia Vohnout demonstrate the acoustoelectric cardiac imaging invention. (Photo: Eddie San Juan/Tech Launch Arizona)As chief science officer, Dr. Witte oversees the development and implementation of innovations and intellectual property at ElectroSonix. Co-founder Sonia Vohnout, chief operations officer at ElectroSonix and a UArizona alumna, oversees business development, fundraising and the company’s operations.

Eric Smith, executive director of the University of Arizona Center for Innovation at Tech Parks Arizona, originally connected Vohnout and Dr. Witte.

“He knew my areas of interest and also knew that my husband had heart issues, so this invention was one I would have a personal connection to,” Vohnout said.

Some of the services Tech Launch Arizona provided for the newly formed startup included patent prosecution and licensing, market research, financial analysis, pitch deck preparations, and funding for invention development through its Asset Development program. Dr. Witte and Vohnout also took part in the TLA-hosted customer discovery program I-Corps.

A lab prototype of the acoustoelectric cardiac imaging device. (Photo: Eddie San Juan/Tech Launch Arizona)ElectroSonix's current focus is cardiac imaging, but Dr. Witte and Vohnout say they will be exploring other opportunities in the future. The company licensed UArizona patents for acoustoelectric imaging for both the heart and brain.

The team continues to reach important milestones, including receiving a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institute of Health that is allowing them to further develop their technology. Most recently, ElectroSonix became a client of the UArizona Center for Innovation. 

More than 4 million people in the U.S. suffer from cardiac arrhythmias and over 1000 die each year. Current conventional methods are labor-intensive, error-prone, and often ineffective for identifying arrhythmias. These limitations increase the chances of complications and the need for subsequent procedures. With over 500,000 cardiac ablations performed each year and a market forecasted to reach $4.5 billion by 2020, the demand for safer and more accurate procedures continues to grow.

“Startup Sees Future for Heart Imaging Technology” | (UANews) Posted Nov. 19, 2019
“ElectroSonix selected as finalist of 2019 Venture Madness Conference” | (AZ Big Media) Posted Jan. 24, 2019
“ElectroSonix wins NIH SBIR Phase I Award for fast, accurate mapping of arrhythmias” | (SBIR-STTR) Posted Sept. 21, 2018

Release Date: 
11/22/2019 - 10:30am
Original Story: