UT chemists awarded $2 million grant from National Institutes of Health

Sami Sparber

For chemistry professor Richard Crooks, what began as a casual inquiry over beers has inspired his trajectory outside the classroom for the last 18 months.

“My brother is a critical care physician, and every once in a while, we get together and drink beer,” Crooks said. “I asked him, ‘If you could have one tool available to you, what would it be?’ And he replied, ‘A quick and easy way of measuring the heart-stress of people suffering from heart failure. We could save a lot of money and a lot of time if we had that.”

Since then, Crooks and his team have developed a concept for a device that allows those with heart failure to conduct an at-home finger prick test. According to a press release published Wednesday, Crooks and his team recently earned a $2 million grant from National Institutes of Health, which will allow them to build their first prototype of the device.

Such a device would make a world of difference to the 5.7 million people diagnosed with heart failure in the U.S., according to Crooks.

“Many heart failure patients are old, poor, live in rural areas and/or are uneducated,” Crooks said. “You and I think going to the doctor is no big deal, but if you live in rural West Virginia and don’t have access to a car, it’s a problem.”

The NIH grant provides a continuation of the funding Crook’s project was awarded in 2015 from Texas Health Catalyst, a program of the Dell Medical School.

Health Catalyst program director Nishi Viswanathan said that THC also connected Crook’s team to consultants with valuable insights on marketing, design and meeting the FDA’s notoriously stringent standards. Viswanathan said the team’s unwavering commitment distinguished Crook’s project from other applicants.

“It was obvious they were willing to spend a lot of time hashing everything out,” Viswanathan said. “They were constantly absorbing everything they were hearing.”

Chemical engineering senior Jansen Tapia was a member of Crook’s team from 2015 up until last semester. Tapia said he’s proud to see the project take its next big step.

“It’s great because I’ve seen firsthand all the hard work that’s been put into it,” Tapia said. “It’s a complicated little device. It may not appear like it, but it is, and it really has the potential to help millions of people.”