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April 9, 2019

Physician innovator working to bring new tech to patients, thanks to AGA funding

Meet Ashish Nimgaonkar, MD, MTech, MS, our AGA Research Foundation researcher of the month.

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The AGA Research Foundation’s career development awards are invaluable tools for early career investigators to advance their careers in gastroenterology and hepatology research. When Ashish Nimgaonkar, MD, MTech, MS, received the AGA-Boston Scientific Career Development Technology and Innovation Award in 2014, he was able to step up his research and develop a new technological approach for managing patients with chronic liver disease-related complications. We are delighted to introduce you to the work of Dr. Nimgaonkar, medical director in the Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, department of biomedical engineering, and an assistant professor of medicine and business at Johns Hopkins University.

AGA Research Foundation researcher of the month: Dr. Ashish Nimgaonkar

Dr. Nimgaonkar’s contributions to the field of gastroenterology, and to advancing care for patients with chronic liver disease, began in his small lab at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

When Dr. Nimgaonkar received his funding from the AGA Research Foundation in 2014, he was able to focus on developing a technology that would enable patients with refractory ascites to manage their condition at home. This is a condition in which a large volume of fluid accumulates in the abdomen, causes difficulty breathing and affects patients’ quality of life. Patients visit a hospital or clinic several times a month to drain the fluid, which could weigh as much as 10 pounds or more. Refractory ascites is stubbornly resistant to standard medical therapy. The only definitive treatment is liver transplantation.

Dr. Nimgaonkar was able to combine his dual training in gastroenterology and in medical technology innovation through the biodesign program at Stanford University, along with the breadth of engineering and research expertise at Johns Hopkins University, to develop a bio-powered shunt that moves a patient’s fluid buildup out of the peritoneal cavity to the urinary bladder, where it can be eliminated naturally. His shunt has another major advantage for patients who are on liver transplant lists and are required to undergo MRI and other diagnostics: it contains no metal components.

Dr. Nimgaonkar said he plans to get his technology through regulatory approval, into manufacturing and ultimately to commercialization so it can be used clinically.

“Most researchers might invent a technology but it remains on the shelf,” he said. “Someone has to take it forward to get it into hands of physicians and patients. When I was trying to come up with the right solution to help patients with refractory ascites, I had to think about many of those aspects early on.”

Dr. Nimgaonkar has filed for patents on this technology and is about to publish his work in peer-reviewed journals. He is exploring multiple avenues to advance this technology into clinical testing, including discussions with companies to license his invention as well as creating a startup company to fund the technology’s development.

“This is a long journey,” he said. “To be effective, I have to see how I can move this forward toward patient care.”

Dr. Nimgaonkar said the AGA Research Foundation award enhanced the credibility and importance of his work and has facilitated a dialogue within Johns Hopkins to create a separate funding and promotion pathway for non-traditional research, which often requires a different skill set. Dr. Nimgaonkar has taken on other leadership roles within Johns Hopkins’ engineering and business schools, highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of this work.

The AGA award has made it possible for Dr. Nimgaonkar to obtain additional intramural and extramural funding (including NIH, NSF) for his shunt and other technology research projects. Through a separate research program, Dr. Nimgaonkar and his team developed a biopolymer pill that could replicate the positive effects of bariatric surgery to treat diabetes and other metabolic conditions.

“The AGA award set me up for more of this high-risk, high-reward tech projects as a young researcher,” he said. “The number one thing that drives me is how will this impact patient care on a day-to-day basis.”

Coming to work every day with “exciting problems to solve” is extremely rewarding, Dr. Nimgaonkar said. But the promise of his accomplishments couldn’t happen without his mentors, collaborators, lab members and research animals.

Ashish Nimgaonkar and his pigs

 

Dr. Nimgaonkar caring for his pigs.

“This is a complete team effort — I think we have spent more time bonding with the rats and the pigs than our kids.”

The AGA Research Foundation funds investigators today so that clinicians have better patient care tools tomorrow. Support the future of patient care with a tax-deductible contribution to the AGA Research Foundation. Donate today at www.gastro.org/mygift.

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