Alum Wins Cade Prize for Promising Blood Flow Measuring Device

July 12, 2022

Ashwin Parthasarathy is fascinated with imaging modalities and how they can be used to collect data and provide physicians with information.

The alum, who earned his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from UT in 2010, has a startup called SPKL and has developed an award-winning blood flow monitor to provide physicians with more information, which he says, will lead to greater medical innovations.

Devices and machines have always interested Parthasarathy, who knew he wanted to go into biomedical engineering as an undergraduate student.

“I like the challenge of working with the human body, which is like the noisiest, most complicated instrument in many ways,” he says.

As an international student from Chennai, India, Parthasarathy says one of the biggest things he was looking for in a school to pursue graduate studies, was a welcoming atmosphere, and that for him, UT is that place. In graduate school, he dove into imaging, working with Andrew Dunn on a blood flow imaging instrument. After UT, Parthasarathy held postdoctoral positions at Boston University and University of Pennsylvania, where he focused on microscopy and diffuse optics.

All of this experience has helped Parthasarathy in his current research as an assistant professor of electrical engineering at University of South Florida, where he develops optical devices that use speckle contrast imaging and diffuse correlation spectroscopy (DCS) for medical devices that can monitor and make measurements in real-time while a patient is the hospital. These applications could include stroke and autoregulation monitoring, as well as monitoring how wounds heal over time.

In 2020, Parthasarathy founded a start-up called SPKL that basically merges two imaging technologies together, combining speckle contrast imaging and DCS to make a small, easy-to- use device with the potential to make a big impact in health care.

The result is the rbSEE blood flow monitor, a vastly better way to measure blood flow and improve treatment of traumatic brain injuries, stroke and a variety of diseases. This non-invasive, wearable blood flow monitor can be used on any tissue surface of the body—the arm, leg, brain, or wounds—to provide continuous blood flow measurement of a localized area at the patient’s bedside.

Unlike current methods for measuring blood flow, such as magnetic resonance imaging, the rbSEE blood monitor is portable, less expensive and can work with all patients, so that these measurements can be taken at the bedside.

Parthasarathy says blood flow monitoring is an underserved part of medical diagnostics, but it has the potential to be a great innovation.

“When patient’s go to a doctor’s office, their oxygen level is measured with a pulse oximeter,” Parthasarathy says. “This measurement that is very common is possible because that technology is so small, which makes it accessible and easy to use. I believe that the rbSEE blood flow monitor, because of its portable size could be used for a variety of applications that we aren’t necessarily measuring for today only because there hasn’t been something so easy to use.”

The team at SPKL has overcome barriers in blood flow monitoring by taking technology that was relatively expensive and finding ways to make it accessible.

Parthasarathy says the device could be applied to monitor therapeutics in cancer treatment, foot ulcers, wound healing, or anywhere a physician may need to look at blood flow over time.

In 2021, SPKL and Parthasarathy were awarded the Cade Prize for Innovation, a top award in Florida for invention named after Dr. James Robert Cade, Gatorade’s lead inventor. It came with a $34,000 prize.

Parthasarathy and SPKL are using the award and its recognition on moving forward with prototyping and licensing their product with the hopes that one day, in doctors’ offices, along with measuring blood pressure and oxygen levels, health care workers may also use the rbSEE blood flow monitor to provide them with vital patient data.