By Lenoria Addison
Most people take for granted the ability to swallow, a physical function seemingly as basic as breathing. For an estimated 10 million Americans, however, the ability to swallow can be impaired to the point of requiring medical attention.
Madison-based Swallow Solutions LLC plans to revolutionize this medical field by enhancing the quality of life for patients suffering from swallowing disorders, generally known as dysphagia.
Launched by Dr. JoAnne Robbins, a professor in Gastroenterology and Geriatrics/Gerontology in the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, Swallow Solutions has recently added a chief executive officer, former Marshfield Clinic administrator Dr. Robert Carlson, to help build the business.
With two primary areas of research, Swallow Solutions has created a dual approach that includes therapeutic devices as well as nutritional beverages, fluids and foods that will accommodate individuals suffering from dysphagia.
The first device created is a Class I medical device known as MOST, or Madison Oral Strengthening Therapeutic. This device is designed for screening, diagnosing and treating swallowing disorders. As more adults and children are being diagnosed yearly with some form of dysphagia due to aging, weak muscles, neurological disorders, diseases (such as ALS, muscle dystrophy and frailty) or their cures (such as surgery and radiation), Swallow Solutions is committed to offering a suite of products to clinicians to assess and treat dysphagia.
The second therapeutic device, Madison Oralever Resistance Exercise, or MORE, will be on the market this fall.
A second area of research for Swallow Solutions focuses on the diet plans for those affected by dysphagia. Dr. Robbins, along with three other colleagues, plans to create diets that are tasteful and rich in nutrition for patients with swallowing disorders to reduce aspiration. Aspiration leads to pneumonia, malnutrition, dehydration and even death. Swallow Solutions is attempting to improve muscle strength in the head and neck to increase swallowing function.
When asked what separates Swallow Solutions from competitors such as Nestle, Kraft, Simply Thick, Hormel, Vital Stem and IOPI, Dr. Carlson said the company “focuses on a two-fold technique with a much superior response, more effective than existing and is easily proven with clinic trials. Swallowing function improves, diet improves, and patients are able to have a more normal diet because of our rehabilitation and compensatory therapies.”
Dr. Carlson had more than 20 years of experience at Marshfield Clinic. While there, he created and led the Division of Laboratory Medicine and the Division of Applied Sciences. Soon after he branched out and directed the clinic’s technology transfer program.
One of the challenges facing Swallow Solutions is funding. “Income is less than expenses,” Carlson said. “Swallow Solution just started to sell the first device, but there is still more research and development to do. This is a critical stage for the company and we need sufficient resources.”
Swallow Solutions has raised $255,000 and has secured a $250,000 low-interest loan from the state’s economic development agency. The company is seeking to raise another $500,000 to $750,000, which will be used to expand and support research and the development of its medical devices and fluids.
By 2013, the leaders of Swallow Solutions hope to have full funding. The company is projecting operating profits of $1.2 million and $3.2 million, respectively, in coming years. The company was among 26 emerging firms selected to present to investors during the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium (http://www.wisearlystage.com/), to be held Nov. 13-14 at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison.
Addison is a student in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the UW-Madison.