Dr. Ken Olree has gained a patent on a method for blocking nerve impulses that could potentially help people with epilepsy, seizures and other neurological problems.
Olree, associate professor of engineering and physics, applied for the patent in 2007 and received the rights in September of this year on his method for “coil optimization for magnetic stimulation.” A patent is a license that excludes others from being able to make, use or sell an invention.
The method resulted from Olree’s graduate study started in 1998 with Dr. Ken Horch, professor emeritus at the University of Utah. Horch was Olree’s advisor and is a co-inventor of the patent.
“He has a very good record in terms of developing undergraduate bioengineering programs in a new type of institution,” Horch said. “His track record speaks for itself.”
The patent can be used anytime someone wants to stimulate neurons in the brain or in the spinal cord, he said. The original idea behind the method was to block pain impulses using different coil shapes to pinpoint a specific area of nerves.
“This patent is Ken’s independent piece of work that was sufficient enough to be granted a patent,” Horch said.
The patent is applicable to different things, such as people who suffer from depression, seizures or epilepsy. It is a general procedure for getting the coil shape that you want for a particular application or a particular clinical treatment that could potentially block pain impulses.
“I had previously worked with children with cerebral palsy,” said Olree, director of engineering. “If I can block nerve impulses, I could potentially provide a clinical treatment option for children with spasticity.”
Olree plans to contact companies to see if they’re interested in licensing his patent or partnering with him to further develop his method.
“There’s a number of things that could come out of it,” Olree said. “I’m hopeful that other things will come from it. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Olree hopes to develop clinical treatments and help people long term.
“My graduate work was in biomedical engineering and bioengineering,” he said. “One of the things that’s really interested me is how do we take the talents God has blessed us with and use them to improve people’s lives. In my case, I think I’ve got an ability to solve problems. I understand math and science, but if I can use that in order to improve people’s lives, that would be great.”