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Samuel Patz, Ph.D.

Photo of Samuel Patz, Ph.D.
Samuel Patz, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Radiology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
Ventilation Stethoscope

Administered by the NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases, Lung Biology and Disease Branch
FY 2009 Recovery Act Funding: $499,775

Research Focus: In the world of pediatric medicine, no safe methods exist to measure lung function in infants. Ventilator-induced lung injury is a common cause of complications and death in critically ill infants with respiratory failure. Traditional oxygen monitors only measure the function of the lung as a whole, leaving regional measurements in question. Chest X-ray equipment is available, but involves ionizing radiation that can harm young infants.

To fill this gap in neonatal care, Samuel Patz, Ph.D. is developing a portable magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) device that is safe for newborns. Supported by a National Heart, Lung,and Blood Institute Challenge Grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), his Ventilation Stethoscope could allow clinicians to measure ventilation in different regions of premature infants' developing lungs, without using harmful ionizing radiation.  If poor ventilation is detected in a particular region, a clinician could then correct this to ensure that all portions of a newborn's lungs are working.

It is important to keep all portions of the lung ventilated while the immature respiratory systems of neonates slowly mature in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). "Any part of the lung that is not kept open is likely to not develop. Such a condition can seriously affect the future health of an individual," Dr. Patz said. Lung development in premature infants almost always requires ventilatory support. This device would be useful in the care of the majority of NICU patients."

The device offers several advantages. Unlike most traditional MRI scanners, the Ventilation Stethoscope does not require a patient to be placed inside a magnet. Rather,the instrument is placed near the patient and produces a magnetic field that projects into the chest. To take ventilation measurements, the device uses an MRI scanner to detect a harmless gas that the patient has inhaled. This evaluation informs physicians as to what regions of the lung are ventilated. In addition, the Ventilation Stethoscope is smaller and more portable than a traditional MRI scanner, making it more suitable for use in the NICU.

Economic Impact: The Recovery Act grant allowed Dr. Patz to set up a program with dedicated researchers to design and build his Ventilation Stethoscope.  The funding saved 1.5 postdoctoral fellowship positions and supported two full-time graduate students and at least one senior scientist.

"I am enormously thankful for the grant we have received through the Recovery Act.  It has allowed me to work on an exciting and important project and has provided key funding for my research group during a critical time," he said.

Given a successful conclusion to the project, Dr. Patz anticipates the creation of the Ventilation Stethoscope will stimulate the economy for those who will manufacture, market, distribute, and maintain these devices.  Certain healthcare professionals could also benefit if NICUs employ new personnel to operate these devices.

On Becoming a Scientist: As far back as I can remember, I have always been interested in science," said Dr. Patz. "My brother and I once strung a wire over a distance of 100 meters and sent Morse code signals to each other.  I built things like a carbon arc lamp, and became a ham radio operator when I was 13."

After the tragic loss of his parents to a plane crash when he was 12 years old, young Samuel was sent to live with an aunt and uncle. His uncle, Arnall Patz, M.D., was a famous ophthalmologist who discovered the cause of blindness in premature infants.  "He was a marvelous fellow, completely down to earth, brilliant, and really took the time to nurture me," said Dr. Patz.  "Arnall took the time to encourage my scientific interests and exposed me to his medical research.  I was enormously captivated by medicine and by the time I went to college, I was very much interested not only in physics but also in applying physics to medicine."

Earlier in his career, Dr. Patz was focused on making fundamental contributions to MRI.  "My drive is not to make a breakthrough in one particular area, but rather to continue to make contributions to whatever area in which I am working," said Dr. Patz.

By Lindsey Willis

Last Updated:August 10, 2010

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