Published: Aug. 25, 2020

Mark Rentschler in his lab
Above: Professor Mark Rentschler in the Advanced Medical Technologies Laboratory.
Top: Micro-texture technology shown on a balloon used during gastrointestinal procedures. 

Aspero Medical, a spinout company of CU Boulder’s Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering and CU Anschutz Medical Campus was recently awarded $225,000 through the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. This award will allow the company to further technologies in the field of gastroenterology, specifically their C-Tube product line that incorporates proprietary Pillar™ micro-texture technology.

Their design improves the grip of medical balloons used in endoscopies and other gastrointestinal procedures. Unlike the balloons currently used which are smooth and round, Aspero Medical has discovered that when textures smaller than the eye can see are applied to a surface, they have a significant impact on the stability and grip of the device on the gastrointestinal wall. 

Aspero Medical began in response to a desire on the part of Professor Mark Rentschler of the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering to translate his laboratory's fundamental research to influence patient outcomes in a positive manner. He co-founded the company with Steven Edmundowicz, MD, professor and medical director of the Digestive Health Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Today, Allison Lyle (MSMechEngr’12) also serves as their director of engineering. Through several proof-of-concept grants from Venture Partners and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the base technology was proved. They also pursued market discovery and business plan development, seeking guidance from advisors. Since 2018, they have devoted time and effort to establishing and executing their intellectual property strategy. 

In light of new developments, Rentschler answered questions about the SBIR Phase I program, upcoming research and what it means to be an entrepreneur.

Question: What will this award enable?

Answer: Annually, there are nearly 20 million colonoscopies performed in the United States. The majority of these procedures are screenings related to colon cancer. An incomplete colonoscopy can result in missed colorectal cancer and ultimately increased healthcare expenditures related to follow-up procedures. The goal of this project is to demonstrate feasibility of an integrated balloon overtube that can be used intraoperatively, a mid-procedure, time-efficient addition on the endoscope to aid in completing challenging colonoscopies and minimize the occurrence of incomplete colonoscopies. Aspero Medical will use the awarded funds to create an effective intraoperative balloon overtube solution and demonstrate use effectiveness.

Question: What will the next stage of development look like for this technology?

Answer: Research outcomes of this NSF SBIR Phase I grant will demonstrate proof of concept. Follow-on research and development efforts will target transitioning this concept to cost-effective manufacturing, more extensive clinical evaluation and user studies and ultimately translation from bench-to-bedside.

Question: What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?

Answer: For me, my passion is to positively impact society, primarily through my faculty roles in teaching, research, and service. Our laboratory’s fundamental research in the areas of medical devices and surgical robotics has positioned us to routinely interact with physician collaborators and patients and to keep these end users of our technology in mind. As a faculty member, I have been fortunate to have a unique set of entrepreneurial resources and opportunities available to me. So much so, that when our research approaches a translational threshold, not trying to move the technology forward to the marketplace would seem like a lost opportunity. In addition to teaching, research and service, I look at entrepreneurship as one more tool that we can use to make a positive impact.

About NSF Small Business Programs

America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF awards $200 million annually to startups and small businesses, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal impact. Startups working across almost all areas of science and technology can receive up to $1.75 million to support research and development (R&D), helping de-risk technology for commercial success. America’s Seed Fund is congressionally mandated through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $8.1 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. 

Aspero Medical Updates