Stephen Ramon and Shockley Nunnery are both 4th-year medical students at UVA. Within their first week of medical school, they knew they wanted to build medical devices. Over their clinical rotations, the two of them kept lists of things they thought were frustrating or dangerous in the hospital and agreed to do something about it when they had some free time. One of the main issues they uncovered was the incredibly outdated technology for blood flow measurement. So, Ramon and Shockley founded their company Pingus to modernize this technology.
Pingus is a wearable ultrasound that continuously monitors blood flow, uploads that data to the cloud, and alerts healthcare providers of concerning trends. It has applications in the management of CLI (further described below), vascular access management for patients with End Stage Renal Disease on Hemodialysis, and patients on Extra Corporeal Membranous Oxygenation.
Every year, close to half a million people are admitted to the hospital for Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI), a severe obstruction of the arteries which reduces blood flow to the extremities and causes severe pain at rest, ulcers, and even gangrene. For these patients, surgical revascularization via angioplasty (balloon dilation of a diseased artery) or bypass (using a vein or prosthetic graft to go around an obstructive lesion) is the only option. Unfortunately for these patients, the revascularization is complicated and often requires revisions and readmissions. Graft failure is one of the most common reasons for readmissions, and poor hospital surveillance makes things worse. Currently, when patients are admitted for this diagnosis, hospitals use an old-school audio pencil doppler to listen to blood blow. This exam yields highly subjective, qualitative data, rendering it practically useless.
"As a medical student on the vascular surgery service, one of your main tasks is to check the patient's blood flow before and after an operation using a 1980s era ultrasound probe," Ramon explains. He continues on with a story, "After what seemed like a successful arterial bypass operation, I crawled under the sterile drape and placed the probe on the patient's foot, listening for the familiar ''whoosh whoosh' sound that indicates good flow. The sound quickly diminished, and the surgeon immediately took the scalpel back to the patient's abdomen and discovered a thick clot in the vessel. The experienced surgeon's quick reaction saved this patient's leg, but any hesitation and things might've turned out differently."
Ramon and Nunnery asked themselves, what if there was a way to continually monitor the blood flow pre, intra, and post operatively, the surgeon might have more warning and more data to make a treatment decision? The patient wears a blood pressure cuff, ECG leads, pulse oximeter, so why hasn't blood flow been added to the list of measurements during vascular operations?"
Their device was designed for patients. It collects blood flow data non-invasively and does not require the patient to wake up, stop what they are doing, or come into the clinic. The monitoring and alert system was designed for healthcare providers. It collects objective, quantifiable data. It provides trends. It gives peace of mind that a vein or prosthetic graft is, in fact, working or clarity around the decision to take a patient to the operating room sooner if the data looks bad.
The next steps for Pingus include contracting a high-fidelity build of their device, raising capital, finalizing their patents, and entering into a licensing agreement with a larger firm in the space. Stephen is headed off to Houston for the Texas Medical Center's BioDesign program for a year while Shockley is starting MBA coursework at Darden, so it will be an interesting year all around for team Pingus.
Shockley Nunnery and Stephen Ramon, co-founders of Pingus.