UH Startup Earns Commercialization Grant for New Technology

Fannin-backed company GuidaBot Is Developing a Robotic System for MRI-Guided Interventions

Michael Heffernan
Michael J. Heffernan, GuidaBot director of research and development, said the new NSF grant will allow the startup to maintain its momentum.

GuidaBot, LLC, a joint venture between the University of Houston and Fannin Innovation Studio, has received a one-year, $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop and commercialize a robotic manipulator designed to work within the powerful magnetic field of an MRI machine.

The small business technology transfer grant will be used to support ongoing research and testing of prototype systems based on GuidaBot's force transmission mechanism and proprietary software. The GuidaBot technology will enable doctors to perform biopsies while the patient remains within the MRI machine, allowing for faster and more precise procedures. 

“The grant will help us maintain momentum in the lab to commercialize the device for medical use,” said Michael J. Heffernan, GuidaBot director of research and development. “Continued support from the National Science Foundation further validates our work and positions us to actively and effectively pursue strategic partners and investors.”

Financial support for the initial work was provided through a NSF grant, the University of Houston and Fannin Innovation Studio, which works with institutions in the Texas Medical Center to create and support life sciences businesses.

“The National Science Foundation supports small businesses with the most innovative, cutting-edge ideas that have the potential to become great commercial successes and make huge societal impacts,” said Barry Johnson, director of the NSF’s Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships. “We hope that this seed funding will spark solutions to some of the most important challenges of our time across all areas of science and technology.”

The company’s technology was developed with a $1.5 million NSF Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) award entitled ‘Multimodal image-guided robot-assisted surgeries’.

 “This award has resulted in a suite of robotic, magnetic resonance imaging and computational methods seamlessly integrating the robot, the MRI scanner, and the physician to streamline MRI-guided procedures and improve patient outcomes,” said Nikolaos V. Tsekos, associate professor of computer science at UH, director of the Medical Robotics Laboratory and principle investigator of the original NSF award. “While similar robotic systems use complex piezoelectric, pneumatic or hydraulic motors, we’re developing ours using solid-media transmission, a fundamentally new way of transmitting force.”

Pilot studies have demonstrated the compatibility of the novel force transmission system with the MRI scanner, and the new grant will support further development of the prototype robot and proof-of-concept studies with MRI phantoms.

“The National Science Foundation grant is instrumental in continuing valuable research and development of the robotic manipulator,” said Fannin executive chairman Leo Linbeck III. “This is one of many validations of Fannin’s ability to commercialize technologies and its commitment to Houston’s life sciences infrastructure.”

Ramanan Krishnamoorti, interim vice president for research and technology transfer at UH, said the partnership with Fannin Innovation Studio has been pivotal. “Bringing innovative technology like that developed by Dr. Tsekos and GuidaBot to the marketplace requires a strong support network of services,” he said. “Combining the intellectual and technical strengths of our faculty with those of our partners in the community can boost the benefits to society.”