Driving Innovations in CV Care: Q&A With John Catanzaro, MD, MBA, FACC

Cardiology Magazine

After catching the innovation and serial entrepreneurship bug, John Catanzaro, MD, MBA, FACC, associate medical director and program director of University of Florida (UF) Health's Clinical Cardiology Electrophysiology Section, is ramping up work on two innovative projects with the help of the educational hospital. The first project will improve the safety and efficacy of atrial fibrillation (AFib) ablation procedures, and the other will develop a first-of-its-kind pre-surgery recipe based on Gatorade, called Operade™.

Catanzaro discusses his ongoing projects, the development process, and the importance of innovations like these in cardiovascular care.

Tell us about your effort to improve AFib ablation procedures.

At UF Health, we have built a comprehensive center to treat AFib. AFib constitutes a major health concern worldwide, owing to its association with impaired quality of life, stroke, heart failure, dementia, and increased mortality. Our ever-growing understanding of the disease, paired with constant technical and technological advances in the field, has triggered a progressive expansion in the number of AFib ablation procedures. Nevertheless, AFib ablation is not risk free, and ablation-related esophageal thermal injury is a concern. Endotracheal intubation seems to be more prevalent than previously thought, as "silent" lesions have been found in asymptomatic patients undergoing active post-procedural screening. Atrial-esophageal fistula remains the most dreaded complication in AFib ablation procedures. Although it is rare and underreported, it is associated with high mortality.

Our solution is an innovative method that can assume a thermal load, offering the possibility of organ protection and a safer procedure. In fact, it is rare for such a novel solution to propose increasing the safety and efficacy of a procedure. The technology has already been licensed, and now we are scaling and testing the method and coinciding medical device. We will be the first center to offer safer ablation procedures, increasing safety and improving outcomes for patients suffering from AFib.

How has UF Innovate helped you in this process?

UF Innovate facilitated the creation of a team and made the introduction to UF materials scientist, Christopher Batich, PhD, and his student, Michelle Dill. UF Innovate also provided commercialization funding and legal assistance filing the intellectual property. These funds were used for prototype design and to test the innovative method at the bench, mimicking physiological conditions during ablation. Once proof of concept was achieved, animal testing was performed. (Of note, a consistent model and method for testing a specific hypothesis was devised.) The results and data ultimately led to licensing of the technology and publication of an abstract at Heart Rhythm 2021.

The late UF Health Dean, Leon Haley, MD, the Division of Cardiology in addition to the academic network at UF Health Jacksonville supported my pursuit of a master's in business administration (MBA) through The Warrington School of Business at the University of Florida.

Tell us more about your idea for Operade.

During my MBA program, my interest for serial entrepreneurism and venture capital financing was sparked, eventually leading to Operade. It all started when I became a patient and underwent surgery. For most of us who have undergone fasting before a surgery or outpatient procedure, the feelings of lightheadedness, weakness, dry mouth and anxiety immediately come to mind. I still recall my fear of having to cancel and reschedule. Our next step will be working to secure funding to go to market and perform a scientific study.

Why are these innovations so critical to the future of this field?

Nothing is as important as health and wellness. With so much opportunity to innovate in both areas, I plan to continue to spin up solutions that produce meaningful change in people's lives. I am looking to take as many ideas as possible and connect them with the right operators and investors to create a positive impact across Jacksonville and scale to the national stage.

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