News Release

UVA’s John A. Hossack elected to the National Academy of Inventors

Patent-prolific biomedical engineering professor tackles disease with ultrasound innovations

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science

John A. Hossack

image: UVA biomedical engineering professor John. A. Hossack in his lab. view more 

Credit: Tom Cogill for UVA Engineering

JOHN A. HOSSACK, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science, has been elected to the National Academy of Inventors.

Ultrasound, a type of sonography, plays a critical role in diagnosing and treating diseases using high-frequency sound waves. During the span of his career, which so far includes 104 U.S. patents and 32 foreign-issued patents, Hossack jointly invented new approaches and designs that have affected the ultrasound field in significant ways. For example, his imaging inventions improved the sharpness of ultrasound images by expanding the range of shades of gray and reducing the image “noise.” Other innovations include using ultrasound not for imaging, but for drug delivery.

Hossack’s advancements have given health care providers life-saving information and the ability to treat patients with an elevated standard of care.

“John is dedicated to his research and to ensuring the results become tangible solutions. He is addressing some of the biggest challenges in health care, and his inventions have undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives,” said UVA School of Engineering Dean JENNIFER L. WEST.

One of Hossack’s early inventions, developed in the 1990s when he worked in Silicon Valley, was a spherical lens approach for a transesophageal ultrasound transducer used for imaging the heart by passing a probe through the esophagus. Capturing images close to the heart with the optimized lens brought unprecedented detail.

The resulting V5M design was a market leader for about 10 years, which is an unusually long time in a technologically competitive field, Hossack said.

Later, he invented a method of image formation using a FREQUENCY-DEPENDENT FOCUS to produce finer resolution “grayscale” and Doppler images. Related to this innovation were improved signal processing methods that took advantage of the higher harmonics generated during the transmission of ultrasound into tissue.

Hossack also spearheaded the use of CATHETER-BASED ULTRASOUND COMBINED WITH MICROBUBBLES AND DRUG DELIVERY. The combination of ultrasound and microbubbles enables the formation of microscopic pores in cell membranes that are just big enough to allow drug penetration into the cell while still allowing the cell to recover immediately after treatment.

“An important attribute of this method is that it’s site-specific,” Hossack said. “We can paint a surface with the focus of an ultrasound beam so that we can be very selective as to where the drug is delivered, and that allows us to achieve a higher site-specific concentration of a drug that would otherwise be systemically toxic.”  

He is a co-inventor on improved methods for isolating the ultrasound signal from microbubbles and detecting the “molecular signature of disease.”

In true science-discovery fashion, Hossack and his team also found a way to DISSOLVE BLOOD CLOTS and improve the potential treatment of deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and stroke.

They determined that some of their lab-made microbubbles, which possessed the problematic properties of being small in number but large and unstable, were uniquely well suited for the task of clot busting. They managed to turn “bugs” into “features.” Additionally, the approach allowed for a reduction in the required drug dose by a factor of 10 or more, opening the possibility of treatment to new populations of patients who could not tolerate higher drug doses.

Hossack’s contributions have benefited physicians and patients, but they also helped grow the BIOTECH HUB IN THE CHARLOTTESVILLE AREA. In 2016, UVA honored Hossack as an EDLICH-HENDERSON INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR for the success of three ventures that he helped to commercialize. He was a co-founder of PocketSonics Inc. and SOUNDPIPE LLC. He was a co-inventor on an early RIVANNA MEDICAL patent and collaborated on the company’s early projects.

Hossack believes invention is a process and is often the result of relentless improvement. In practically all instances, he has been part of a team of inventors and acknowledges his numerous co-inventors over the years.

“Medical device innovation relies on a clearly defined, unmet clinical need and collaboration between technical colleagues, medical professionals, students and technical staff,” Hossack said. “This is true in both large and small organizations. It is satisfying when an idea becomes reality and is used daily, worldwide, to solve real-world clinical problems.

Hossack came to UVA as an associate professor of biomedical engineering in 2000 and became a professor in 2009, with a courtesy appointment in electrical and computer engineering.

Before coming to UVA, Hossack worked in industry at ACUSON, a leading designer and manufacturer of advanced ultrasound imaging equipment in Mountain View, California. Before Acuson, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in the E.L. GINZTON LABORATORY working on a sonar transducer design project funded by the Office of Naval Research.

Hossack obtained bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Strathclyde, U.K. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.


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