Johns Hopkins Seeks Patent on Surgical Robot Systems

The Johns Hopkins University is a private university with heavy research operations that is headquartered in Baltimore, MD, with partner campuses in Singapore, China, Italy and Washington, DC. Medical research is a major focus for the institution, and in late September the university will hold its first annual Forum on Emerging Topics in Patient Safety. Recently, Johns Hopkins has risen to the 12th overall spot among national universities on U.S. News & World Report’s most recent college rankings, and its biomedical engineering program was ranked first overall among that degree program.

As students all over the country are getting back into the swing of things at school, IPWatchdog is taking some time to look at some of the best innovations coming from many of these national universities. Recently we looked at patent activity at the University of California and patent activity at the University of Texas. Today, we’re taking some time to check out some of the most intriguing recent patent applications filed by the Johns Hopkins University with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Although the U.S. government holds certain rights in some of these developments because of funding, each of the following is assigned solely to the Johns Hopkins University.

The medical research university is heavily involved with developments for medical diagnostics, as many of the following applications show. One patent application describes a system of searching for similar images within a medical imaging database to aid in diagnosing issues. Another patent application would protect a system of developing a personalized library of tumor development indicators for cancer patients to determine if a cancer recurrence is forming. A third application discusses a method of analyzing albumin/peptide compounds in a patient’s plasma to determine if a blood flow issue exists.

Other patent applications we feature here focus on improvements to surgical procedures. One patent application explains a new development for specialized surgical robotics and an improved interface for surgeon control. Finally, we feature a patent application discussing a minimally invasive surgical treatment for obesity using a gastric sponge.



Human-Machine Collaborative Robotic Systems
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130218340

Surgical robots have been used in recent years to perform tasks that are dangerous or complex on patients in an operating environment. As these machines have grown in dexterity, they have become more specialized and tend to focus on specific tasks, such as knot tying for the connection of neural networks. However, these surgical machines do not allow for much collaboration with human users, which may cause the robot to interact poorly with sutures and other tissue environment issues.

This patent application, filed with the USPTO by Johns Hopkins University, would protect a system of creating a semi-autonomous surgical robot that could better incorporate user inputs from a human surgeon. The interactive robot is configured to complete a multi-step task, but a surgeon can interact with the user interface, triggering an action by the robotic recognition system. A sensor-actuator system can delay or alter steps in the surgical robot’s procedure based on input from the recognition system.

Claim 1 of this patent application would provide protections for:

“A semi-automatic, interactive robotic system for performing a multi-step task, comprising: a user interface system; a recognition system adapted to communicate with said user interface system; a control system adapted to communicate with said recognition system; and a sensor-actuator system adapted to communicate with said control system, wherein said recognition system is configured to recognize actions taken by a user while said user operates said user interface system and to selectively instruct said control system to cause said sensor-actuator system to perform one of an automatic step, a semi-automatic step or direct step of said multi-step task based on said recognized actions and a task model of said multi-step task.”

Personalized Tumor Biomarkers
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130210645

As a cancer develops within a patient, chromosomal material in tissues surrounding the cancer is typically rearranged, which may include chromosomal inversions, amplifications or deletions. Detecting these chromosomal instabilities can be used as a somatic indicator of cancer in a patient, helping a doctor detect the cancer before other symptoms arrive. However, these alterations don’t typically occur with enough regularity for detecting solid tumors.

Johns Hopkins University has filed this patent application with the USPTO to protect a system of cancer detection for patients using personalized tumor markers. Patient DNA material is taken from a tumor in order to create a library of mated gene pairs. The chromosomal alterations in this material could be stored and used to screen a patient later to determine if the cancer has returned. If a patient’s DNA contains alterations that are seen in the mate-paired library gathered from previous tumor materials, the patient’s cancer has likely returned.

As Claim 1 states, this patent application would provide Johns Hopkins University the right to protect:

“A method of identifying a personalized tumor marker for a cancer patient, comprising: making a mate-paired library from tumor DNA of the patient, wherein mate pairs of said library comprise two genomic tags that are co-linear but not contiguous in a segment of the tumor DNA; determining sequence of a plurality of mate pairs of the library; determining regions of copy number differences among regions in the tumor DNA of the patient; identifying mate paired tags which map within a region of copy number difference or spanning a boundary of copy number difference as potential markers of a tumor-specific DNA rearrangement in the cancer patient.”


Gastric Sponge System and Use Thereof
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130231692

Obesity is a complex health issue that can have a number of contributing causes and carries a high risk of comorbid illness, or additional disorders caused by a primary disorder. Stringent therapeutic applications for alleviating the causes of obesity can help, but many people suffer from obesity who don’t meet the necessary criteria. Medications and lifestyle modifications can be prescribed, but these methods have limited effectiveness compared to surgery.


This patent application has been filed by Johns Hopkins University to protect a minimally invasive treatment for obesity disorders through the use of a gastric sponge system. The gastric sponge is designed to sit in a patient’s stomach unobtrusively and make the patient feel fuller, reducing their desire to eat. When the sponge comes into contact with liquid, it can swell to take up about 80 percent of a patient’s stomach to induce satiety.

Claim 1 of this patent application is designed to protect:

“A gastric sponge system comprising, a gastric sponge device suitable for placement in a stomach of a subject, the sponge comprising: a) a core region; and b) an outer region comprising one or more protuberances from the core region which prevent migration of the device through the pyloric valve, wherein the core region and outer region are composed of a biocompatible, substantially non-degradable sponge material that expands in volume upon absorption of fluid.”


Image Search Engine
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130223716

Clinical databases can store large number of medical images that can be used for diagnostic purposes for a plurality of patients. Medical professionals can browse through these images, but there are no good methods for searching through images. It would be helpful to use a search engine to pull up images that are similar to a first object, but unlike a word-based search engine, there are no good methods of searching for similar images in a database.

This patent application has been filed to protect the development of a medical imaging system that can search for similar images within a database for diagnostic purposes. At a workstation, a medical professional can receive images of a tissue region from a patient. The workstation can also access an atlas of tissue regions based on the tissue region of the medical image. The atlas of tissue regions can aid in database searching for similar medical images.

As Claim 1 explains, Johns Hopkins University is seeking protections for:

“A non-invasive imaging system, comprising: an imaging scanner suitable to generate an image representing a tissue region of a subject under observation, the tissue region having at least one substructure and said image comprising a plurality of image voxels; a signal processing system in communication with said imaging scanner to receive the imaging signal from said imaging scanner; and a data storage unit in communication with said signal processing system, wherein said data storage unit is configured to store: an atlas comprising spatial information of said at least one substructure in the tissue region, and a database comprising a plurality of pre-stored medical images representing said tissue region, and wherein said signal processing system is adapted to: identify, based on the atlas and for each of the at least one substructure, a corresponding portion of image voxels in said image; provide a computed quantification of the corresponding portion of image voxels for each of the at least one substructure of said tissue region by performing spatial filtering on said image; and search said database to provide at least one selected medical image from the plurality of pre-stored medical images, the at least one selected medical image having a corresponding quantification that is substantially similar to said computed quantification.”


Albumin-Bound Protein/Peptide Complex as a Biomarker for Disease
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130236917

Plasma in the human body contains a large assortment of proteins, especially serum albumin. This globular protein is the most abundant protein in mammalian plasmas, and in humans it can appear at rates up to 50 milligrams per milliliter of plasma. Albumin serves as a binding agent for many peptides and other plasma structures, but this binding ability is altered when a person is suffering from certain diseases, such as myocardial ischemia or renal disease.

Johns Hopkins University has filed this patent application with the USPTO to protect a system of analyzing albumin performance to determine if a patient is suffering from ischemia, or a shortage of blood supply to certain tissues. When a patient suffers from ischemic diseases, the amount of albumin protein/peptide complexes is altered when compared with plasma from a healthy person. Variations in the levels of these compounds can be analyzed to determine whether a patient is experiencing ischemia.

Claim 1 of this patent application would give Johns Hopkins legal protections over:

“A method of diagnosing ischemia in a subject, comprising (a) determining the level of at least one biomarker selected from the listing in Table 2 in a biological sample obtained from said subject, wherein said biomarker comprises an albumin-bound protein/peptide complex (ABPPC), and (b) quantifying the level determined in the biological sample to a control level in a normal subject population, wherein an increase or decrease in the level, compared to control level, is indicative of ischemia.”


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