Written by Kevin Volz.
One of the biggest obstacles for those with ALS or paralyzed by spinal cord injuries is breathing on their own. The most common option is to use mechanical ventilation, but this requires patients to be hooked to a large machine at all times, reducing their quality of life. Anthony Ignagni, president, CEO and co-founder of Synapse Biomedical, started his company with the mission of giving these patients back their mobility so they can continue to live their lives to the fullest.
Synapse Biomedical provides devices for respiratory control that help individuals breathe without the use of mechanical ventilation. Instead, the company developed a small machine that is implanted directly into the patient’s diaphragm during a minimally invasive procedure. The small size of the device allows patients to continue their daily lives while still getting the breathing assistance they need.
“Our devices have been successfully providing support to these types of patients for years now,” said Anthony Ignagni, president, CEO and co-founder of Synapse Biomedical. “In fact, Christopher Reeve was the third recipient of our device.”
In addition to providing full-time ventilator support for those with spinal cord injuries, Synapse Biomedical’s devices are also helpful for patients with degenerative diseases like ALS. ALS weakens the breathing muscles over time until they are not able to function on their own. Synapse Biomedical’s technology helps keep these muscles active, meaning they can resist fatigue longer and keep functioning without mechanical ventilation. The company is also working to get its devices into the ICU, where they can quickly be implanted to help wean patients off mechanical ventilation systems.
The first Synapse Biomedical device was developed at Case Western Reserve University and implanted into a patient in March 2000. The company itself formed in 2002 with the goal of taking the device and its related technology out of research and preparing it for clinical studies, manufacturing and release in the market. The Synapse Biomedical devices for spinal cord injuries and ALS were approved in 2009 and 2011, respectively. The devices are currently used in 25 countries.
When Synapse Biomedical was founded, it became one of the first companies to receive funding from JumpStart, a northeast Ohio partner of Ohio Third Frontier. The organization also assigned Synapse Biomedical an entrepreneur-in-residence to help the company complete the different legal and financial processes required to start a business.
Synapse Biomedical recently partnered with Case Western Reserve University on a $3 million Innovation Platform Program grant from Ohio Third Frontier. The company will use this funding to begin manufacturing an advanced platform version of its devices in-house. By doing so, the company hopes to expand its technology to help those who have difficulties with hand grip, standing and bladder control.
According to Ignagni, there are significant advantages to doing business in Ohio. A Midwest native himself, Ignagni moved to Cleveland in 1980 and was immediately impressed by everything the state has to offer.
“Ohio is full of universities with strongholds in research and technology,” said Ignagni. “That core hub of technology development is staying here, and we’re staying here with it. We want to be as close as possible to where the innovation is.”