MichBio Names MSU Sea Grant Leader Innovator of the Year John Schwartz

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John Schwartz was named innovator of the year by MichBio. (view larger image)

John Schwartz, MSU Sea Grant program leader turned medical device entrepreneur, was named innovator of the year by MichBio, Michigan’s biotechnology industry association.

Schwartz, who co-founded AI (Airway Innovations) Medical Devices Inc. in Williamston 2 1/2 years ago, was honored at the group’s 2008 expo and conference in Novi.

Working with his brother Richard, an MSU graduate and Medical College of Georgia emergency room physician, Schwartz developed the Airway Rigid Intubating Fiberoptic Laryngoscope (RIFL). The Airway RIFL facilitates placement of a flexible plastic tube into the trachea to protect a patient’s airway and allow mechanical ventilation. The procedure, although common, is difficult and often traumatic, and, if improperly done, can cause grave damage. It is especially difficult to perform on those suffering cervical spine injuries.

Schwartz’s innovation was an articulated insertion tube to better navigate the trachea, combined with fiber optics for remote vision. The second generation of the device is nearing commercial production, and Schwartz is meeting with prospective manufacturers.

The Airway RIFL is unrelated to his work at MSU, but Schwartz said AI Medical Devices received important market research assistance and other guidance from Michigan State in the company’s early stages.

“They really helped with a whole variety of things to move toward commercialization of the product,” he said. “We had a lot of people wanting us to go to other places, but we developed our corporation in Michigan because of the things MSU did to assist us with our business plan.”

Schwartz will retire this month after 25 years with MSU. As an Extension educator, he taught hundreds of emergency medical personnel how to handle cold water near-drowning. He also developed a course in outdoor preparedness for natural resource professionals and led MSU students on study abroad courses in the Himalayas, Belize, Anguilla, the Bahamas and Antarctica.

His introduction to medicine goes back to his days as an engineering undergraduate at the University of Michigan, when he worked drawing blood from patients at a veterans’ hospital.

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