'Meet the Innovators' Season 2, Episode 10: A video interview with Andrew Bartynski, co-founder, AesculaTech. Los Angeles-based start-up, AesculaTech, Inc., is developing a platform of temperature-responsive smart materials, including their first product, AesculaGel, a punctal plug for the treatment of dry eye syndrome that is applied as a liquid then solidifies at body temperature and blocks tear ducts.
Meet Andrew Bartynski, PhD. Andrew is co-founder of AesculaTech Inc., a Los Angeles-based medical device start-up developing a platform of temperature-responsive smart materials that can address opportunities in localized drug-delivery therapies, wound healing, tissue scaffolding, and additive manufacturing, to name a few. The company’s first product, AesculaGel, is a punctal plug for the treatment of dry eye syndrome. Applied as a liquid, it solidifies at body temperature and blocks tear ducts.
Andrew explains that there are “a number of environmental, age, and genetic factors that influence someone’s propensity for dry eye.” With over 64 million US patients collectively spending $3.5 billion a year treating dry eye symptoms and applying the syndrome’s first line of defense—over-the-counter eye lubricants more than five times per week—the cost to treat dry eye syndrome and the high rate of non-compliance has devalued traditional treatments. Even more concerning, an estimated 40 million of the compliant patients report the eye drops ineffective, resulting in five million opting for a punctal occlusion in search of relief.
Exposed to science and engineering by his physics professor father and to chemistry by his high school chemistry teacher, Andrew’s interest in STEM eventually “grew into a general love for trying to build unique solutions to different problems.” However, it wasn’t until Andrew met future co-founder, Niki Bayat, PhD, while completing graduate work in chemical engineering at the University of Southern California, that he was introduced to the world of medical devices. Niki’s project, Andrew explains, “was focused in the medical space and exposed me to an entirely new way of thinking about materials, and the way they interact with our everyday lives.” He continues, “through working together we both developed an appreciation for the way chemistry can have a significant impact on the quality of life and healthcare outcomes for patients.” This shared realization eventually empowered the duo to create and patent a material which can be applied as a liquid and solidifies when it comes into contact with the body. This responsive material has become disruptive in its own right, and quickly became the medium for a flagship product for their newly formed venture, AesculaTech.
The shape-adaptive punctal plug uses AesculaTech’s propriety material, AesculaGel, as a means to treat dry eye syndrome by preventing tears from draining away from the surface of the eye. It can be thought of as “reverse chocolate,” Andrew says, explaining that chocolate is solid until heated, then it turns into liquid. AesculaGel, on the other hand, is a liquid at low temperatures and turns into a gel when heated, reaching its fully solid state at body temperature. As a result of its responsive nature, the material adapts to each patient’s unique tear duct and serves as an easy to administer, one-size-fits-all punctal plug, improving patient comfort, and reducing the number of repeat procedures and rate of patient non-compliance.
Next up for the emerging company is a larger human clinical trial, before a pre-market submission to the FDA. Armed with the support of the Texas Medical Center’s accelerator program, TMCx, located in the TMC Innovation Institute and the resources the center provides, there’s no doubt that dry eye treatment is only the beginning. From all of us at MedTech Strategist, we offer Andrew, Niki, and the AesculaTech team, congratulations and we wish you continued success!
WATCH THE SHORT, 10-MIN VIDEO INTERVIEW ABOVE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ANDREW, AND HOW AESCULATECH IS MAKING AN IMPACT ON THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY.
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