When you see doctors scrambling to save someone in a TV melodrama like “ER” or “Grey’s Anatomy,” there’s a good chance one of their key gadgets came from a real-life crew of engineers in the Seattle area. This region has played a central role in making ultrasound technology one of medicine’s most fundamental tools for looking inside the body to see what’s going right or wrong, without having to lift a scalpel.
The use of sound waves to produce clear images of a developing fetus, or of a heart that’s failing to pump, has its roots in pioneering work at the University of Washington. More specifically, it was the UW Bioengineering department in the 1960s, under the leadership of the late Robert Rushmer, with key contributions by his student Donald Baker. The region now has about 5,000 people working at more than a dozen companies in the ultrasound business, according to UW bioengineering professor Yongmin Kim. Engineers and scientists at these companies are working on a wide range of applications. These include high-resolution images for diagnosing heart trouble, or higher-intensity uses like breaking up fat tissue or cauterizing battlefield wounds.
We have counted 15 companies in the area, most of which reside on the Eastside. It’s not a comprehensive list, so if we have overlooked anyone, please leave us a comment or shoot us a note at [email protected]
AcousTx (Seattle, WA)
AcousTx spun off from Therus in 2002, with a different application for ultrasound to stop bleeding. It’s called high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), which it is trying to develop for the U.S. military to stop bleeding with a lightweight portable machine on the battlefield.
Ekos (Bothell, WA)
This company introduced the first commercial system for using ultrasound to break up blood clots in 2005. A newer product helps doctors infuse fluids, like clot-busting thrombolytic drugs, into patients.
Liposonix (Bothell, WA)
Founded in 1999 to use ultrasound as a non-invasive technique for body sculpting, essentially getting ride of unwanted body fat. Its product is sold in Europe, and it was acquired in June by Scottsdale, AZ-based Medicis for $150 million, with potential for another $150 million in milestone payments. CEO Jens Quistgaard, a former chief technologist at Sonosite, says the unit maintains operating autonomy and 45 local employees.
Pacific Bioscience Labs (Bellevue, WA)
This company was founded in 2001 by David Giuliani, who previously started Optiva, the developer of the Sonicare toothbrush. His latest creation is the Clarisonic, a tool that it bills as “the dermatologist’s secret to silky smooth, radiantly fresh skin.”
Philips Healthcare (Bothell, WA)
This is a division of the Netherlands-based electronics giant Philips that was originally founded as ATL Ultrasound. The Philips division makes cart-bound ultrasound machines used for taking images of developing fetuses, diagnosing heart abnormalities, and helping anesthesia doctors perform nerve blocks. … Next Page »
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