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VOL. 122 | NO. 38 | Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Methodist Le Bonheur Boosts Image With New VeinViewer Devices

By Amy O. Williams

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TRANSPARENCY WORKS: The VeinViewer Imaging System by Memphis-based Luminetx Corp. allows doctors to see right through the skin to patients' veins, easing the process of drawing blood or performing other procedures. -- Photo Courtesy Of Luminetx Corp.

With its decision to use nine VeinViewers throughout its system, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has made a huge vote of confidence in the homegrown medical imaging device.

VeinViewer is produced by Memphis-based Luminetx Corp. at 1256 Union Ave. The technology was discovered by scientists at the University of Tennessee and developed by Luminetx over about a year and a half. Each unit is sold for $25,000.

The VeinViewer Imaging System allows physicians to see patients' veins without ever breaking their skin. It also helps take the guesswork out of injections.

And Methodist's decision affirms what Luminetx president and chief executive officer Jim Phillips has said about the device all along: that the VeinViewer will change the way patients perceive having their blood drawn.

"What Methodist's purchase does is confirm that the VeinViewer is going to be the standard of care for venipuncture," Phillips said.

Venipuncture is the collection of blood from a vein.

To market we go ...

Luminetx first began selling the vein-imaging devices to doctors' offices and hospitals around the country in October, which means it took less than two years to get the device from concept to market.

And that is a remarkable feat considering what it took to get the device looking the way it does now, Phillips said. During prototype development in 2004, the VeinViewer was recognized by Time magazine as one of the most innovative medical inventions of the year. At that point, Phillips said, the device rolled around attached to the bottom part of a desk chair.

Now the device has a distinct "Star Trek-like" head, as Phillips calls it, which slides easily into a variety of angles and positions. The imaging device now stands about 6 feet tall and glides around the floor on its own platform, which makes it especially versatile for looking at veins in any position.

The VeinViewer technology uses light to produce an image of the blood vessels that lie just beneath the surface of the skin - up to a depth of 8 millimeters, or one-third of an inch. The image then is projected onto the surface of the skin without causing any harm.

The device "removes the blindfold," Phillips said, and allows the person trying to access the vein to have a clear view of the best possible place, whether they are inserting an IV, treating spider veins or just drawing blood.

Open up and say ahhh

The VeinViewer is especially helpful for physicians and phlebotomists (people who draw blood) who work with children, Phillips said. And that is exactly why officials at Methodist are so interested in using the device at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center, which was one of the first sites to test the technology.

"There are some wonderful people who work here at Le Bonheur, and we routinely obtain venous access in children," said Dr. Joel Saltzman, medical director of anesthesia at Le Bonheur.

And though Saltzman said the device is not used on every patient every day, it is available for children who are difficult when it comes to starting IV drips and often get stuck several times before their veins are found.

"For those children, this adds another mechanism to obtain venous access without sticking a whole bunch of times," he said.

In addition to producing a sleek look for the VeinViewer, developers also had to figure out the seemingly minute details, such as how to package the device once it was ready to be shipped.

Developers at Luminetx - which has about 45 employees - also had to get the device through a series of certifications before it could be put on the market. Developers performed a series of clinical trials and had to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL), which tests product safety.

"We've passed a lot of milestones in a short period of time," Phillips said.

Respected vets concur

And veterans of the medical imaging industry agree.

Dr. Gary Keith, a professor at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, worked in the industry for companies such as General Electric Corp. for 25 years, developing such revolutionary products as the CT, or computer tomography, scanner, otherwise known as a CAT (computer axial tomography) machine. CAT scans provide cross-section images of the body that help in diagnosing diseases.

"The VeinViewer did have a very rapid track into the marketplace," said Keith, who also is interim chair of the department of biomedical imaging and engineering at UTHSC.

He said new technologies like the VeinViewer often find the fastest route to the marketplace through startup companies such as Luminetx - which started in January 2005 - rather than coming out of the research labs of larger companies.

"Luminetx has done very well in getting the product to market in the short time they did," he said.

Researchers currently are looking into other uses for the device, such as using veins for identification, similar to fingerprinting, and even the possibility of implementing different modes to control how far the device can peer into the skin.

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