Entrepreneur Stays Connected to UT through Student Collaborations 

Although Michael Patton graduated with his M.S.E. in biomedical engineering in 1990, he’s no stranger to UT’s campus. He makes it a point to frequently visit his alma mater to work with students and faculty. Patton, an entrepreneur, has started two companies since graduating—Patton Surgical, a medical device company, and Texas Medical Accelerator, a product development and commercialization company. For the past five years, Patton has participated in the department’s Senior Design Program, where biomedical engineering students spend a year collaborating with a company on an engineering or medical challenge. Participating companies may then choose to commercialize the students’ solutions developed through the program.

As a graduate student Patton was drawn to entrepreneurship, even though he knew very little about the subject at the time. The professors who inspired him the most were Drs. Thomas Runge, Grady Rylander and Bob Popovich. Dr. Patton worked in Dr. Runge’s lab, which developed a pulsatile cardiovascular bypass pump that provided a more physiologic perfusion during open-heart surgeries. Dr. Rylander’s neuroprosthesis course opened Patton’s eyes to the potential of improving the lives of injured patients throughout the world. Dr. Popovich lectured on the trials and tribulations of developing and commercializing a peritoneal dialysis pump, through his collaboration with Dr. Jack Moncrief, an Austin nephrologist.

After receiving his M.S.E. degree, Patton earned an MD from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. During his training there, medical devices were always on his mind. As a third-year medical student doing rotations at Brackenridge in Austin, Patton developed a concept for a retractor that could provide clinicians improved visualization during diagnostic and therapeutic Ob/Gyn procedures. He tracked down former UT professor Dr. Fred Bohls, and the two produced prototypes in Bohls’ Tarrytown garage. Patton went on to develop beta models at Space Industries in Clear Lake (which mainly produced Space Shuttle payload). Eventually, successful patient trials were conducted at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

During his fourth year, angel investors approached Patton with an enticing offer. Motivated to make more of a global impact through improving medical devices, he started Patton Surgical and, for the next 15 years, his company focused on the development commercialization of minimally invasive surgical instruments.

Patton’s experience in medical school gave him the opportunity to spend a great deal of time with clinicians, which helped him gain an understanding of some of the medical device challenges they were facing. In Patton Surgical’s early years, laparoscopic surgery (minimally invasive surgery) was taking off. After careful study, Patton’s team recognized that one of the most dangerous parts of the procedure was gaining access to the patient’s abdominal cavity. They focused on developing a safer “trocar” (essentially a knife in a tube), and the PassPort became the company’s most successful product. Stryker Corporation acquired the trocar line from Patton Surgical in 2012.

Today, Patton continues to develop medical devices through the Texas Medical Accelerator. He founded the company to give inventors a place to determine if their ideas are relevant and, if so, how they can commercialize them.

“Most clinicians have ideas but very few know even the first steps to take in turning them into products,” says Patton. “Fortunately for their patients, their training is centered providing the best care with what is currently available. It should come as no surprise that most have little or no business background.”

Patton is also motivated to teach students the process of medical device development and commercialization.

“I try to educate students on the business side of getting a device to market,” continues Patton. “They need to understand that a safer and less costly product does not guarantee success.”

Patton hopes to build the Texas Medical Accelerator into is a place where clinicians, researchers, students and inventors congregate to improve patient care through innovation.Patton says it’s serendipitous that he’s been able to achieve his success in the city of Austin, where he started as a student. He’s looking forward to being a part of the community as it continues to grow.

“I never dreamt there would be a potential for a medical school in Austin. We have a clean slate, and it’s going to be exciting to see how the relationship between UT and the medical community evolves in the next few years. I cannot imagine being anywhere else.”