By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
While the South Texas heat makes most people sweat, the heat and sweat can be particularly unbearable and dangerous for amputees with prosthetic limbs.
“Amputees everywhere have heat related issues,” said Kirk Simendinger, a prosthetist with Bulow Orthotic & Prosthetic Solutions in San Antonio.
“When skin reaches elevated temperatures and perspires, that trapped sweat between the limb and the prosthetic device can cause tissue to soften and break down and become susceptible to friction damage, blisters, skin ulcers and infections,” Simendinger said.
“There’s nothing out there on the market right now that combats the overall temperature inside a socket environment,” he said.
Healthcare workers often tell amputees to use antiperspirant, talcum powder and absorbent socks to solve the problem.
But Leto Solutions, an early-stage startup spun out of the University of Texas at San Antonio, has the high-tech solution to solve the problem for countless amputees, said Becky Ariana, the company’s CEO. Leto’s team of four engineers created the Aquilonix Prosthesis Cooling System. Leto’s lightweight thermoelectric cooling device fits into the socket of the prosthetic limb and runs on a five-hour battery which can be turned on or off by the wearer.
“There is a real need for this that has not been tackled until now,” Simendinger said.
Leto Solutions created a prototype of the Aquilonix Prosthesis Cooling System and is currently raising a $2.5 million seed stage round to take the product to market, Ariana said. The company also launched an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign last Friday. Already, it has raised more than $6,000 from 24 funders towards its goal of $98,000.
Ariana joined Leto Solutions in January of 2013 after serving as the company’s mentor at UTSA. Ariana previously worked at Vidacare Corp., which created and manufactured the EZ-IO, a drill-like device to provide medical professionals the ability to quickly access the vascular system to deliver medicine, blood and intravenous fluids. Ariana served as Vice President at Vidacare, with responsibility for the OnControl Bone Marrow Biopsy System, which won the 2012 Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovations Award. Teleflex Inc. bought Vidacare last year for $285 million.
“I’ve always been fortunate in being involved in products that make a difference for patients,” Ariana said. “This is certainly one of those products. It’s hard to believe that up until now no one has addressed this problem for amputees.”
The initial funding will allow Leto to get through the Food and Drug Administration clearance process for its class one medical device and to commercialize the first product, Ariana said. It will also help to fund the development of its second product for above the knee amputees, she said.
Leto plans to contract for manufacturing locally with Coastal Life Technologies, the same company that manufactured Vidacare’s device.
Already, Leto Solutions has met with success. The startup and its eight-member student team won the UTSA Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship 100K Student Venture Competition in 2013. Earlier this year, ABC News ran a story for their “Second Tour” series, which featured the company and one of its founders.
In February, the Texas Life Science Forum honored Leto as one of ten Rice Alliance Life Science Companies for having the best business opportunity and promise for high-value commercialization.
Leto solutions identified a problem in the marketplace and came up with a solution that is needed, said Anita Leffel, assistant director of the Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship. Those are the best kind of startups, she said.
Gary Walters, a retired U.S. Army Sergeant, came up with the idea for the product. Walters lost his lower right leg during a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq. He now wears a prosthetic limb. But he suffered from intense heat and sweat build-up at the point where his limb met the socket interface for his prosthetic limb. The problem became extremely uncomfortable when he did chores outside or played with his daughter. The pain and discomfort from heat and sweat build up interfered with his ability to lead an active life. So he challenged his team to design a system that would resolve the problem.
They came up with the Aquilonix System and Walters has tested the product with great results so far, Ariana said.
“At a time when so many advances are being made with bionic arms and other prosthetics, it’s amazing someone has not addressed this problem,” Ariana said.
Leto’s device is going to be very sought out, Simendinger said.
“I think that people who wear prosthesis nowadays are showing others they can do anything they want to do – they can run, hike, ride a bike,” Simendinger said. “This device is going to take that to a new level really.”
Editor’s Note: This article appears in the current print edition of Silicon Hills News on the Life Sciences Industry in Central Texas.