VenoStent, PinPtr edge closer to market with boost from $200K AIR-TT grants

Akos Ledeczi and Will Hedgecock, who developed PinPtr. (John Russell/Vanderbilt University)

Two innovative but very different products designed by Vanderbilt University engineers are getting a financial push onto the market, thanks to National Science Foundation Accelerating Innovation Research–Technology Translation (AIR-TT) grants of about $200,000 each.

VenoStent is a vein graft-supporting device made from a new class of shape-memory polymers. PinPtr is a cloud-based, high-precision, low-cost positioning system. Both also went through the NSF I-Corps program, where a specific curriculum, customer interviews and established entrepreneurs helped ensure their devices could be commercialized successfully.

In its application for I-Corps, the VenoStent team envisioned its usage primarily as an external stent in coronary artery bypass surgery. After speaking to 100 potential customers — including dozens of surgeons, physicians, vascular companies and hospital administrators — it became apparent to Timothy Boire, a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering, and Hak-Joon Sung, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and cardiovascular medicine, that VenoStent was more useful for and translatable to hemodialysis patients.


The pressure on veins from taking out the patient’s blood, filtering it and returning it is immense, leading to vein failures in 75 percent of patients within two years.

If the vein fails, Sung said, that means finding a different access point higher up the arm and putting patients through another surgery. VenoStent would prevent that outcome. “For this particular application, there are no comparable devices or tools on the market,” he said.

Because VenoStent is made of shape-memory polymers, it can wrap around and provide custom fit and mechanical support for the complex and varying vein-graft connection of each case, where the problems with vein failure are most prominent.


It requires no sutures, reducing surgery time, risk of infection and wound reopening, while also reducing failure from vein occlusion.

“In the case of a synthetic graft, you’re tying the graft to the artery, and then you’re sliding VenoStent onto that graft and then tying that synthetic graft onto the vein,” Boire said. “Basically, it’s able to slide down over the vein-synthetic graft junction without suturing. That’s a critical spot for vein failure.”

With the grant, the team can gather more data to optimize VenoStent’s safety and efficacy and submit a pre-submission application to the Food & Drug Administration.

PinPtr represents a leap forward in location technology. Typical GPS products can find a location within 3 to 10 meters of accuracy, but PinPtr has the potential to deliver as close as 10 centimeters of accuracy.

Will Hedgecock, who earned his PhD in electrical engineering and is doing post-doctoral research, went through the Jumpstart Foundry business accelerator and won both Vanderbilt CTTC’s Flash Pitch competition and Southern Alpha’s Spark competition last year for the technology. Since then, he and primary investigator Akos Ledeczi, associate professor of computer engineering, have tested it by traversing lightly wooded areas, driving in urban and suburban driving, and even positioning it on the open water, with potential applications in rowing and boating competitions.

They’ve overcome issues with water reflections and have registered results as accurate as those on land.

In the future, such pinpoint technology will be necessary for self-driving cars, although there are other barriers to that right now, Hedgecock said.

There also are a last few issues with PinPtr to address, he said, related primarily to making the technology more robust in difficult GPS environments.

The system works by gathering GPS data from satellites and sending it to the cloud. Communication between the cloud, a mobile phone and the PinPtr device allows for increased, three-dimensional accuracy.

“This particular NSF Air program is for tech that’s very promising but not at the point where it’s ready to be commercialized,” Ledeczi said. “It closes that gap from academia.”

Both teams also are receiving mentoring and other assistance from the Vanderbilt Center for Technology Transfer & Commercialization.


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
On Twitter @HeidiHallTN