Carl Schoellhammer, a postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, won the 2016 Graduate Gold Medal for his SuonoCalm invention, which enables the rapid delivery of medicine through the gastrointestinal tract for people with GI disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Schoellhammer developed the hand-held SuonoCalm device for at-home use for patients as a PhD student while under the supervision of Prof. Daniel Blankschtein and MIT Koch Institute for Cancer Research Prof. Robert Langer.
The Collegiate Inventors Competition was founded in 1990 as part of the National Inventors Hall of Fame to recognize and reward the nation’s most innovative, entrepreneurial and creative collegiate inventors and encourage university students to follow through with their creations.
Schoellhammer won $10,000 for winning the top prize. He describes SuonoCalm this way in his entry description:
“Over 1.4 million people in the United States suffer from inflammatory bowel disease. Rectal delivery of medication can be an effective treatment but must be retained for hours or even overnight for greatest efficacy, something that is often impossible for patients. SuonoCalm is a device designed to deliver a wide range of medications directly into tissue using low-frequency ultrasound. Tests have shown superior drug absorption, and it takes just one minute.”
SuonoCalm is a platform technology that enable the delivery of biologics and nucleic acids, among others, via the GI tract for at-home administration.
The device uses low-frequency ultrasound to physically “force” drugs into tissue, making it potentially useful for those with disorders in the IBD spectrum like ulcerative colitis (UC) or Crohn’s disease.
Ulrasound is most commonly used for medical imaging and noninvasive diagnostics due to its ability to travel through soft tissue safely.
In SuonoCalm, ultrasound technology improves drug delivery because of its “transient caviation,” a process taking place when waves of fluid that are exposed to ultrasound form micro-bubbles that implode and create micro-jets that penetrate and push medication into tissue.
“This technology has the potential to change the process of drug discovery or the way treatment is approached for a host of terrible diseases,” Schoellhammer said in an MIT News piece.
The postdoc researcher and his team will continue to advance the technology, prioritizing its use in the delivery of naked nucleic acids such as DNA or RNA, which could open new paths to novel gene therapies and the use of gene editing techniques.
SuonoCalm is only one application of the ultrasound technology. Schoellhammer’s team is also working on a “lollipop-type” device that can be used by children.
Earlier this year, Schoellhammer was featured as someone to watch in the 2016 Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, and he was a winner of a 2015 Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prize for SuonoCalm and a microneedle pill, another invention. The pill allows patients to take medicine orally that formerly had to be administered by a painful injection.