News | Jul 26, 2019

New ‘deep lung’ catheter from VA has flexible sampling tip, camera for improved diagnosis

Medical device manufacturer sought for supplying doctors, hospitals

A doctor examines a chest x-ray for signs and symptoms of pneumonia.

NIH photo

A research scientist working for the Department of Veterans Affairs invented a new tool that will make it easier for doctors to diagnose lung diseases including pneumonia.

Dr. Gianfranco Meduri, with technical support from Garrett Grindle, has built a high-tech catheter that can collect deep lung samples for early and accurate diagnosis with a standard technique known as bronchoalveolar lavage.

The new endotracheal catheter features a tiny light and video camera, and a robotic tip, so doctors can drive the catheter where they want and inspect lung tissue on the way.

The two are currently using off-the-shelf catheters and integrating them with 3D printed rigid parts, Grindle told TechLink, but in a commercial version, the 3D printed parts could be replaced with injection molded parts.

On July 18, the World Intellectual Property Organization published an international patent application on their new device, officially known as the “sampling catheter with articulating tip.” A copy of the international patent application is available below.

Pneumonia can be deadly and early diagnosis is critical for saving lives. For the last 20 years, doctors have used catheters to sample patient lungs for bacteria, fungus, or viruses when the signs and symptoms of pneumonia are present.

An early prototype of the sampling catheter with articulating tip. (Dr. Garrett Grindle/VA)

The sampling process is often done blindly. Doctors advance the catheter until resistance is met then the sample is taken. But it’s not always possible to know for certain what branch of the lungs the sample is from or to easily guide it deeper into the bronchial tree.

One study showed that traditional endotracheal sampling can produce false positive and false negatives exceeding 17 percent, which can lead to inappropriate treatment, increased drug resistance, and poor patient outcomes.

What’s next for the invention

Meduri and Grindle’s work was funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which owns the intellectual property and is making it available to medical device manufacturers for commercialization.

In coordination with the VA Technology Transfer Program, TechLink is helping companies see, evaluate, and license the invention, which is the new device’s first step towards the marketplace where hospitals can buy it for their doctors.

Gary Bloomer, senior technology manager at TechLink, has been in recent communication with the inventors and is helping prospective companies identify the business opportunity and fielding their questions. As the VA’s partnership intermediary, TechLink’s services and consultations are provided to businesses at no cost.

“The invention has been prototyped and the inventors are 3D printing key components,” Bloomer said. “They should have the next iteration of the prototypes early next month.”

Companies interested in learning more about the VA’s extensive patent portfolio can contact Gary Bloomer at or 406-994-7786.