Ann Arbor Life Sciences Startup Gets Federal Grant

ANN ARBOR — Blaze Medical Devices, an Ann Arbor-based company developing novel blood analysis technologies, announced that it has been awarded a $200,000 Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health in collaboration with University of Michigan Health System’s blood bank.

The focus of this grant is to study the strength of correlation between red blood cell mechanical fragility (RBC MF) of stored blood — measured by Blaze’s technology — and transfusion outcomes.

Blaze’s RBC MF testing technology offers a more precise measure of blood damage than is currently available. While current testing is limited to measuring hemolysis (cell rupture) that already occurred, MF tells how much hemolysis can be expected to occur in the future. Unfortunately, this critical blood parameter has not yet had a standardizable and commercially feasible means to be tested.

One major area in need of better metrics is blood banking and transfusion medicine, where blood storage is known to be associated with a cascade of progressive changes collectively termed in the industry as “storage lesion.” Another major market for Blaze’s MF technology is in hemocompatibility testing for medical device and drug development.

Currently, storage time or unit age serves in effect as the principal indicator of blood product acceptability – as reflected by “oldest out first” (a.k.a. first-in-first-out or FIFO) inventory practices and a uniform shelf life for stored RBC units. RBC tests such as MF, upon clinical validation, can help blood bankers and clinicians to better assess each unit’s quality level. This can enable more informed decisions regarding when or to whom a given unit should be transfused. It could also open the door to less FIFO-dependent inventory practices, similar to that used with other kinds of perishables. Also, such tests can find use in validating various products and procedures involved with collecting, processing, and storing blood.

Said Dr. Michael Tarasev, chief operating officer and chief science officer of Blaze: “We are honored to have the support of the NIH in the form of this SBIR grant. We aim to demonstrate the clinical relevance of our technology that addresses the critical need of establishing an age-independent metric of stored RBC quality. Beyond the important matter of patient care, published data indicate that up to $17B is spent annually nationwide just to deal with transfusion adverse events.”

Tarasev is a principal investigator on the SBIR, along with Dr. Robertson Davenport of the University of Michigan. This work is scheduled to begin Dec. 1, and is being supported specifically by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the NIH.

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