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Dr. Kennedy and Dr. UngerDirector and Professor of the Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery Gregory Kennedy, M.D., Ph.D. (left), and Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy Assistant Professor Ken Unger, DPM, FACFAS, DABFS (right), have been awarded grants from the Regional Innovation Strategies i6 Challenge administered by the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The i6 program is designed to further support and increase innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities for students, faculty and staff by providing resources to launch sustainable startups with new or disruptive technologies. UAB’s Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship facilitated and distributed the awards of $10,000-$50,000. The Harbert Institute received applications from investigators across campus and funded eleven early-stage projects with high commercialization potential.

Kennedy will work with Jack Rogers, Ph.D., professor and graduate program director in the Department of Biomedical Engineering to develop a transparent barrier that includes a port for insertion of devices such as intubating stylets and endotracheal tubes. The instrument allows for manipulation of the airway while shielding the care provider from exposure to aerosolized droplets from the patient. This protection is critical in treating patients who might be infected with airborne pathogens, such as COVID-19.

The team has developed two prototypes, a portable attachment for a face shield and a shield mounted to an articulating arm. Grant funding will support further testing of the prototypes.

Meanwhile, Unger will use the grant award to develop an offloading device for the lower extremity to better decrease the pressure on the foot and promote healing in patients with diabetic foot ulcers. Diabetic foot ulcers are a significantly morbid condition and are a challenge to treat. Effective treatment requires offloading the extremity and taking pressure from the area of the ulceration in order to prevent further tissue breakdown and allow healing. A non-healing wound is prone to infection and is a major cause of lower extremity amputation in persons with diabetes mellitus.

The ability to maintain mobility while significantly offloading is a tenuous proposition. The device in development will perform this while keeping the patient ambulatory. The ability to continue walking while the wound heals will be a significant benefit to these patients and aid in amputation prevention. Unger is inspired by the potential outcomes of the device.

“These offloading devices for individuals with diabetic foot ulcers will offer so much relief and improved healing opportunities for our patients,” said Unger. “It is such a motivation to be developing something that will directly impact our patient experience and outcomes for those who suffer from diabetic foot ulcers.”