Medical innovation developed at Wayne State University may assist in Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup

July 6, 2010

Medical technology invented by a cardiologist at Wayne State University may provide some assistance in the cleanup efforts following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Former WSU School of Medicine faculty member Dr. James Richard Spears and his research team developed the technology, which was originally designed to get very high concentrations of oxygen into the bloodstream.

"The use of this medical technology, which gets very high levels of oxygen into the blood directly without bubbles, has been refined and adapted and is now capable of getting oxygen at industrial flow rates into the oily waters of the Gulf, one of the worst dead zones lacking oxygen in the world," said Spears.

The medical technology was licensed to TherOx, a WSU spinoff company, and now is being used by local company DynamOx, a wholly owned subsidiary of TherOx.

"Wayne State's basic research has provided us a unique approach to replace the oxygen that is being consumed by the oil. By augmenting the oxygen, we can revitalize the naturally occurring bacteria and accelerate a process that will take decades to recover if left to the normal re-aeration processes. Stated simply, if we replace the oxygen, the system can recover. If not, it will be a massive dead zone, probably for the rest of my lifetime," said James Ridgway, president of DynamOx. "If you review the congressional testimony of nearly all of the scientists over the course of the disaster, one fact becomes clear: The oxygen must be replaced or the cleanup effort is doomed."

"WSU's Technology Commercialization office works closely with research faculty to leverage their discoveries in ways that benefit all of us," said Judy Johncox, associate vice president for Research and Technology Commercialization. "Technologies only get developed into products when they are licensed and fully commercialized by either existing companies or startup companies. Wayne State University is committed to partnering its intellectual property with companies like TherOx, which can make a meaningful difference."

The product, previously used in New Orleans and at Michigan's Rouge River to raise oxygen levels, has worked effectively in biologically remediating oil-contaminated marshlands and also has proven to be an effective way of removing oil from rocks and plant life using only oxygen as an emulsifier. It is believed to also aid in the cleaning of wildlife but has yet to receive approval from federal regulators for this application.

Wayne State University is a premier urban research university offering more than 400 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 32,000 students.