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April 08, 2013 | Tom Ballard

Karen Tobias passionate about a device that she created to help veterinarians, animals

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a multi-part series spotlighting the work of researchers who have received maturation grants from the University of Tennessee Research Foundation.)

Karen Tobias is passionate about seeing a novel mechanical device that she invented to quickly secure bandages, dressings, or pressure wraps over large wounds brought to market. She needs it in her work.

Like many inventors, however, the Professor of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Tennessee (UT) is not interested in founding a company to commercialize the invention. “I don’t have time to start my own business,” Tobias says, adding that her top priority is her day job in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

So, Tobias is working with the UT Research Foundation (UTRF) to refine her initial prototype, using a $15,000 Maturation Grant, and find the right company or entrepreneur to take the device to market.

“I had this idea in my mind for a long time,” she says, explaining that her medical device combines her knowledge as a surgeon with her freshwater fishing skills.

The concept started from a very simple, but important challenge for veterinarians: how do you tell an animal to stop playing with a wound like you do individuals?

“We treat so many wounds in dogs,” Tobias says. “This will make their recovery easier and our jobs easier.”

The device that she invented is a clip “that can be attached to an animal really quickly to secure a bandage in place,” Tobias explained. If successful, it would replace today’s standard approach, which involves time-consuming placement of sutures. .

While she is focused on animals, Tobias sees potential for human uses, particularly in war zones. It is also designed in such a way that animal owners would be able to manage dressings on their pets once they are released from a veterinarians care.

Tobias says that she drew the initial design about 18 months ago and had the first prototype made about a year ago. Progress might have stopped at that point were it not for the $15,000 UTRF Maturation Grant. The funding enables her to hire an engineer to design a second prototype that is made from surgical-grade material.

“We applied for a provisional patent,” Tobias added.

Maturation funding like the dollars provided by UTRF and other research entities goes a long way in determining whether ideas like Tobias’ ever get beyond the concept or initial prototype stage.

Tobias is a Chicago native who came to the UT College of Veterinary Medicine more than 13 years ago following stops at Illinois for her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State for summer research externships, Purdue for a small animal medicine and surgery internship, Ohio State for her Masters of Science and surgery residency, Georgia for a clinical instructorship, and Washington State where she was a faculty member for nine years. She became an American College of Veterinary Surgeons board-certified surgeon in 1992.

“It takes a lot of training to be a veterinarian,” she adds.