Fresh from an emergency medical technician course, chemical engineer Erik Kulstad decided he wanted to save lives for a living, so he went to medical school. The career change wasn't the first for the former auto mechanic, or his last.
Since 2008, Dr. Kulstad, has been running his own medical products company, Advanced Cooling Therapy. Its patented device: a thin plastic tube that, when inserted down a patient's throat to the stomach, quickly and steadily lowers body temperature.
Researchers have known for years that a patient's odds of surviving heart attacks and strokes soar if doctors administer “therapeutic hypothermia,” or chilling the victim's body to several degrees below normal for 24 hours.
But as a physician at one of Illinois' busiest emergency rooms, Dr. Kulstad saw the shortcomings of the standard ways of cooling. Wrapping people in cooling blankets works, but it can be imprecise and require near-constant attention by nurses. Meanwhile, intravenous cooling—administered via a catheter in the groin—opens patients to infection. “I just kept thinking there's got to be a better way to cool people, given the substantial benefits we're seeing,” says Dr. Kulstad, 47.
The concept behind his inside-out device borrows from automobile engines, which rely on liquid coolant to prevent vital parts from overheating.
After years of development and experimentation (on pigs, and also on himself), the product—dubbed the Esophageal Cooling Device—has been approved for use in Europe and Canada, where the company is gearing up for sales. It has yet to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Advanced Cooling is based at the Illinois Institute of Technology's South Side tech park and a member of the Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization's Propel program for startups. Initially, it was funded by Dr. Kulstad and three co-founders. It secured $180,000 in equity investment in 2011 and later raised $1.5 million in convertible debt. Recently, the company received $1.5 million in venture capital led by Heartland Angels of Evanston, Ill.
The son of a U.S. State Department officer, Dr. Kulstad was born in Venezuela and lived in Haiti and Morocco before his family settled in suburban Washington. After a high school career during which he “got in a lot of trouble,” he had little interest in college, so he worked as a mechanic. He later earned bachelor's and master's degrees in chemical engineering and worked for a Houston biotech startup. He enrolled at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at age 30.
Dr. Kulstad finished an emergency medicine residency in 2004 at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he practices.
Four years later, he and an engineer friend built the first cooling tube prototype using materials from Home Depot, he says. The latest iteration connects to external chiller machines that many hospitals already own.
The device “is a glorified plastic tube,” says Cliff Turner, Heartland's executive manager and an investor himself. He means that as praise: “The gross margins are very nice from an investor point of view.”"A cool way (literally) to save heart attack victims" originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business.