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Thanks to a new method of detecting a condition in children called vesicoureteral reflux (VUR), more than 350,000 children a year may be saved from undergoing painful, invasive testing for the problem.

The acoustic vesicoureteral reflux diagnostic system, co-developed by former Old Dominion University faculty member Martin Meyer with help from some Old Dominion University electrical engineering students, was recently awarded a U.S. patent.

Meyer, who is now associated with Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, and Dr. Robert Mevorach, a pediatric urologist at the University of Rochester Hospital, were awarded the patent on May 16. The Old Dominion University Research Foundation owns the title to the patent, which was filed in November 1998.

More than 350,000 children in this country are tested each year for VUR, which occurs when a faulty valve mechanism in the urinary tract causes fluid to back up into the kidneys. This may cause urinary infection and potential renal failure.

Currently, children suspected of having VUR undergo a painful procedure requiring the insertion of a catheter. The new procedure is completely noninvasive. A passive acoustic method, it utilizes a computerized diagnostic instrument with external electronic stethoscopes to amplify sound from the patient's kidney area just prior to and during urination. The resulting amplified audio signals are sampled and analyzed by a computer program that indicates the presence or absence of VUR in the patient.

The process takes only a matter of minutes. The apparatus is compact and easy to operate, consisting of stethoscopes and a moisture sensor, which are connected to a laptop computer. Under Meyer's direction, Old Dominion students helped create the accompanying software.

More than a dozen students have worked on the project since 1997, when Mevorach first approached Old Dominion for help with his idea while he was stationed at Portsmouth Naval Hospital. The electrical and computer engineering department adopted the unfunded project as part of its senior design course.

Students have continued to do data collection, software development and algorithm development since the patent was awarded, said Stephen Zahorian, chair of the electrical and computer engineering department.

"We delivered a working system, but it will go through clinical trials to work out any glitches," explained Zahorian, who has served as project adviser the past year and a half. "Before it can be commercialized, it has to be tested on hundreds of patients."

Clinical trials have already begun on a select group of children and a new round of clinical studies will begin this year under the direction of Dr. Mevorach at Boston Children's Hospital and the University of Rochester Hospital. Preliminary tests have shown the new technique to be reliable.

According to Mevorach, about one in 100 children are born with dilated kidneys, and of those about 30 percent will have VUR. The condition also affects children with urinary tract infections, particularly girls and young boys.

This article was posted on: June 20, 2000

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