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Grant propels business venture to next step

November 15, 2017

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A partnership that began in a University of Georgia lab between an exercise scientist and two cardiologists has blossomed into a start-up business, recently hiring its first employees. Now, it plans to expand and refine its marketing plan thanks to a new federal grant.

The company, Infrared Rx, has developed a non-invasive method to measure the health of muscle mitochondria, an indicator of overall muscle health. Now, with the assistance of a one-year small business grant from the National Institutes of Health, Infrared Rx can take the next steps in refining its company model while also helping patients with vascular complications from Type 1 diabetes.

"We're doing two things with this grant," said Kevin McCully, a professor in the department of kinesiology in the UGA College of Education. "Develop the software, which we hope to sell, and get the data that could be used to justify and market our product."

The one-year, $183,000 grant from the Small Business Technology Transfer Program of the NIH (award number R41DK112497) will fund a study to investigate the mitochondria health of middle-aged patients with Type 1 diabetes. From a business perspective, the study will help Infrared Rx's founders—McCully, along with Jonathan R Murrow and Kent Nilsson, associate professors with the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership—further refine its software. From an academic perspective, the study will help healthcare professionals understand the role diabetes may have in muscle health.

Infrared Rx's test begins with sensors taped to the skin. Then, a computer hooked up to the sensors detects energy expended by muscles, and Infrared Rx's software translates the calculations into results easily analyzed by doctors and clinicians. The test has the potential to replace costly MRI technology to measure muscle health in people with vascular disease and conditions that impair muscle function.

"This grant represents an effort to take important scientific research that's been done at the university and move it into a clinical realm," said Murrow, whose background in cardiovascular diseases brought him to the project early in its inception. "And for the medical partnership, as a branch campus of Augusta University, this represents a purposeful effort to develop not only clinical trainees but also clinical research that may ultimately help patients."

The grant also marks a milestone for the AU/UGA Medical Partnership, as this is the first company associated with the partnership to receive this type of NIH funding. "It's an endorsement by the NIH that our technology is scientifically interesting and has commercial potential," added Murrow.

A separate university investigator, Nathan Jenkins of the department of kinesiology, will conduct the study to investigate the relationship between mitochondria and circulation. As the quality of care for those with diabetes has risen over the years, preliminary tests have found younger populations have little to no mitochondrial issues. But an older segment of the population may suggest a "cohort factor" related to the type of care they received, McCully said.

"For me, that's scientifically very exciting," said McCully. "We could come up with some information that we could use to better understand mitochondria and circulation in people with impaired glucose levels."

The results will help Infrared Rx know more about its target market, create more jobs in Georgia and refine its software for a variety of healthcare settings. "By the end of the grant, we will be much more capable of delivering an automated product that may be useful for patients who have vascular disease and conditions that impair muscle function," added Murrow.