Sometimes perfecting an existing technique can open the doors to new possibilities.
And when Kevin McCully, a professor in the department of kinesiology, noticed the erratic results of a muscle mitochondria test, he knew an adjustment was needed to fix the system.
The non-invasive test, which requires an inflatable pressure cuff to cut off blood circulation in the arm or leg, uses near infrared light to measure oxygen levels in the muscle. After the cuff is inflated and released multiple times, the results from the measurement form an exponential curve, which can be analyzed to determine an individual's muscle health.
While the test seemed to work on athletes, McCully began noticing a blip in the results for patients with spinal cord injuries and other health issues, such as ALS, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis. As it turns out, small errors caused by the pressure cuff were throwing off the results.
"I looked at the data carefully, and I remember sitting in my office thinking, 'I know why it doesn't work,'" said McCully, who also serves as the director of the Exercise Muscle Physiology Laboratory. "You need the cuff to make the slope, but an error occurs every time you inflate it. If you can correct that error, then the experiment works perfectly."
To refine the mitochondria test, McCully, along with Terence Ryan, now a postdoctoral scholar at East Carolina University, developed a blood volume correction, which recently received a patent with the help of the University of Georgia's Innovation Gateway initiative.
The patent not only corrects the errors caused by the cuff, but it also makes it easier for researchers, doctors and clinicians to diagnose and treat patients with problems ranging from fatigue and muscle weakness to peripheral vascular disease and heart failure.
"It could be used as a baseline to see whether a patient is getting better," said McCully. "The muscle test could tell doctors more specifically what's wrong and allow them to evaluate whether the program is successful. And that's really what our measurement serves—it's a kind of supporting measurement that ensures improvement is not a placebo effect."
McCully's current goal is to reconfigure the blood volume correction into an easy one-click analysis for doctors to use on patients with cardiovascular disease and cancer.
By decreasing the amount of time it takes to complete the test, the new technology has the potential to become a marketable product for medical practitioners around the world.
In fact, InfraredRx, a biomedical company McCully started with professors Kent Nilsson and Jonathan Murrow at the Augusta University/UGA Medical Partnership, is already working on getting the beta test into the hands of researchers in the next year or two.
"We have a lot of people interested in it, and we're trying to make it interesting for people in hospitals and practices," said McCully. "We want to make things as easy as possible."