LLNL

A memory-foam material developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is being used in a potentially life-saving medical device that won a National Technology Transfer Award this week from the Federal Laboratory Consortium.

Researchers from LLNL, Texas A&M University, and Santa Clara-based Shape Memory Medical developed a foam plug that prevents blood flow to diseased vessels.

Blood flow through damaged vessels puts patients at increased risk of stroke, severe pain, uncontrolled bleeding and even death. The IMPEDE Embolization Plug helps minimize complications.

More than 400 patients have already been treated successfully worldwide with the device for conditions such as deformed arteries, tumor resections (where blood flow was blocked to tumors) and pelvic congestion syndrome, with no reported adverse effects.

The plug, made of a polyurethane shaped-memory polymer (SMP) initially intended for weapons applications, is crimped to fit any diagnostic catheter for delivery into a diseased blood vessel. Within minutes, the foam expands to divert blood flow from the diseased vessel toward healthy vessels.

The foam plug is less likely than metal plugs or coils to tear through blood vessel walls and is easier to navigate through the vascular system, according to its developers. Unlike metal devices, the foam plug degrades over time and is replaced with the patient’s natural connective tissue and collagen without long-term inflammation or toxicity.

When LLNL initially looked to license the foam technology, medical-device companies were uninterested. One of the lab’s principal researchers, Duncan Maitland, left in 2007 to join the Texas A&M faculty and create a startup, now known as Shape Memory Medical, with a goal of developing vascular occlusion devices using the technology.

An inter-institutional agreement developed gives Texas A&M access to a significant portfolio of LLNL background intellectual property for the polymer material and provides LLNL with access to future developments. Technology transfer agreements for commercialization of the material were executed between LLNL and Shape Memory Medical, now based in Santa Clara.

Other LLNL employees who worked on the project include polymer scientist Tom Wilson, applied optical physicist Ward Small, computational fluid dynamics engineer Jason Ortega and biomedical engineer Jennifer Rodriguez.

Since 1985, LLNL has garnered 37 national awards for technology transfer from the Federal Laboratory Consortium, a chartered, nationwide network that helps accelerate the transfer of technologies from federal labs into the marketplace. It is comprised of more than 300 federal labs, agencies, and research centers.