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ATLANTA TECH: Licensing pact landed for 'smart shirt'

By Ernest Holsendolph/Staff

The Georgia Tech "smart shirt," which can measure human body characteristics and functions continuously, may be headed for new uses through a new licensing agreement with a New York firm.

The company, SensaTex Inc., will treat the ''smart shirt'' as a platform for performing a variety of applications or uses, said Jeffrey Wolf, chief executive of the Manhattan-based firm.

"Our first products will likely be in the medical monitoring area," said Wolf in an interview on Tuesday. "But other uses could range anywhere from athletic or sports monitoring, surveillance on scuba divers or various forms of wearable computing."

The ''smart shirt'' was developed in 1996 by a team at Georgia Tech, headed by Sundaresan Jayaraman, a professor in the School of Textile and Fiber Engineering, working under a contract with the Navy Department.

The shirt, composed of fabric with imbedded optical and conductive circuitry, would be worn as a foundation garment such as a T-shirt, and would be attached to the body.

Among the first applications that could have commercial use, said Wolf, include plans to use the shirt technology to produce garments that medical patients can wear. It could discreetly relay information to physicians or other medical staff about heart function, respiration, temperature and other indicators of well-being.

The shirt, which was originally developed mostly with military use in mind, could soon produce revenue from a variety of sources, said Wolf. Jayaraman said he plans to channel the school's share of revenue into further research at the university.

"It is extremely gratifying to know that the results of our research will indeed make a positive impact on the quality of life for individuals in the real world," Jayaraman said.

A specialist in the relationship between textile engineering and computing, Jayaraman said he was passing along the work of commercial product development while concentrating on further research.

On the research front, just a few weeks ago Jayaraman and his team signed on to participate in Tech's new "Digital House" project. It is a research project located in a frame house adjacent to campus, where teams of researchers in digital communication will be exploring ways technology can help families in their homes.

Among the assignments in the house, the ''smart shirt'' specialists will be examining the use of the garment to monitor infants and ward off sudden infant death syndrome and watch for other medical problems.

That application, as well as commercial uses devised by SensaTex, could feature remote monitoring of body functions, such as on different floors in a house or even across town.

"The 'smart shirt' represents a quantum leap in health care monitoring, producing accurate, real-time results," said Wolf. "The potential applications for the technology are enormous, and SensaTex is well-poised to pursue them all."

The company, as an early priority, will seek FDA approval for the ''smart shirt'' after conducting human testing of the garment in a clinical setting.

Wolf said the company has had valuable experience with regulators in previous work with a Virginia-based company that produced medical technology.

A key to the commercial advantage of the ''smart shirt'' is that it will be less costly than current monitoring systems. He said he is confident the shirt will be available to consumers in the first quarter of 2001.

SensaTex has obtained its front-end capitalization from a venture capital group called Seed-One Ventures, which Wolf heads as president.

In the SensaTex deal, Tech takes partial equity in exchange for the license and plans to channel proceeds from sales back to campus projects.

In the Virginia project, SensaTex's founders, Wolf and Jeff Himawan, vice president and chief science officer, worked with academic research from the University of Virginia.

Wolf said one of their recent ventures, Elusys Therapeutics, successfully developed novel pharmaceutical products to clear the blood of a wide range of invading pathogens.