Developing Products to Keep Hearts in Rhythm



Earlier this year Eric Chan was inducted as a Fellow of the Heart Rhythm Society (FHRS), a designation distinguishing approximately 1000 health care professionals worldwide for their advanced training, certification, and specialization in the field of cardiac arrhythmia research and treatment. Chan is one of just a few engineers to receive this recognition from the society, which is comprised mainly of cardiologists specializing in cardiac electrophysiology. This is not his first recognition for scientific and engineering contributions to the field. In 2003 he was elected a Fellow of the European Society of Cardiology.

Since coming to the U.S. from Singapore to earn a B.S. in electrical engineering from Purdue University and M.S. and PhD degrees in biomedical engineering from UT Austin, Chan has dedicated his career to research and product development addressing the diagnosis and treatment of cardiac arrhythmias. He formulated an interdisciplinary career path long ago, and today finds meaning in the work he does, benefitting patients that have been diagnosed or treated by products he has invented, developed, and commercialized.

While still a PhD student completing his award-winning dissertation with Professor John Pearce, Chan began working at Arrhythmia Research Technology (ART), Inc. in Austin. As a student, Chan’s dissertation focused on applying medical imaging and computer vision methods to dynamically visualize blood flow for the diagnosis of peripheral vascular disease, or to select viable segments of saphenous veins for coronary arterial bypass grafts. This 2-dimensional image-processing dissertation, combined with his previous 1-dimensional signal processing thesis as a master’s student working with Professor Ron Barr to detect signature patterns in brainwaves that correlate with positive joystick actions that fighter pilots routinely make during battle, gave him the signal processing and graphical programming background necessary to work at ART.

Upon earning his doctorate, Chan worked at ART in Austin for seven years, applying the foundation of knowledge he gained as a UT graduate student to develop software products for non-invasive arrhythmia diagnosis in time and frequency domains, and real-time systems for catheter mapping of electrophysiological signals.

“It was a great place to live and work,” says Chan. “As a student I loved sailing on Lake Travis with the UT Sailing Club, and one of my first purchases after making some money was a used sailboat.”

Sailing came in handy. He recalls being a ‘gondolier’ for friends and classmates Duco Jansen (MS ’92, PhD ’94) and Anita Mahadevan-Jansen (MS ’93, PhD ’96)—alumni who are now married and both teaching at Vanderbilt University.

Chan also played keyboard in a jazz band with fellow graduate students Duco Jansen and Tom Springer (electrical engineering PhD ’91), and before them Carlos Davila (electrical engineering BS ’81, MS ’83, PhD ’88), a professor at Southern Methodist University and Timothy Cleland (MS ’86), an ophthalmologist, during his time at UT. The band, called Three Dog Lab played sets for birthday parties, departmental gatherings, and occasionally at clubs like the Elephant Room.

In the late nineties, Chan switched his focus to the treatment, versus diagnosis, of cardiac arrhythmias. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and developed radiofrequency (RF) ablation devices and systems with Cardima, Inc., first as the Vice President of Product Development and later as Chief Technology Officer. He continued inventing and led teams that developed multi-electrode ablation catheters, minimally invasive surgical probes, and simultaneous multichannel RF energy delivery systems. He also led collaborative development programs with multinational companies Medtronic and Guidant, for catheter systems to visualize and introduce pacemaker leads to treat congestive heart failure patients. Chan worked with Cardima for 11 years, the majority of this time focusing on developing products for the treatment of atrial fibrillation (AF). These efforts resulted in numerous U.S. and international patents.

He also participated in physician teams, designing clinical trials for these AF treatment products; for example, he worked with Dr. Andrea Natale then at the Cleveland Clinic, presently the executive medical director of Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute in Austin and adjunct faculty member of UT’s Biomedical Engineering Department, on a clinical trial for a multi-electrode deflectable ablation microcatheter. 

In 2009, Chan left Cardima and founded Avery MedTech Ventures, his own consulting practice with projects that ranged from venture fundraising to all phases of MedTech development. Successfully completed client projects included fundraising for a client to purchase another device company; FDA Class II diagnostic software verification and validation; FDA Class III device verification, validation and multicenter clinical trial design; mobile health product conceptualization and market strategy; implementation of lean manufacturing methods for catheter manufacturing scale-up. Companies that benefitted from his consulting services included both small start-ups and Fortune 500 multinational corporations, such as ART, Inc., nanoPharmatix, Cardima, EndoSense SA, Nihon Kohden, ePharmAsyst, and Abbott Vascular.

In 2011, one of his consulting clients, ART, asked him to come on board full time. Chan took the opportunity and returned, this time as Vice President of Research and Product Development. Today the company is based in Massachusetts, but Chan remains in the SF Bay Area, and retains his long-term consulting clients in non-conflicting fields of interest to ART. For the past two years working for ART, he has been developing novel and patentable wired and wireless technologies to analyze cardiac arrhythmias and other physiological parameters. At the recent European Society of Cardiology Congress in Munich, he presented an algorithm he invented that employs artificial intelligence to improve clinical workflow for diagnostic software used by cardiologists performing risk assessment for post-myocardial infarction patients at risk of sudden cardiac death. He is also working on the challenge of fast cloud-based diagnosis, from designing, developing and patenting non-invasive devices and systems, to getting FDA clearance for the commercial use of such products.

“Arrhythmia diagnosis and therapeutics are both my career and hobby,” says Chan. “I truly enjoy collaborating with cardiologists, engineers and institutional researchers to help bring innovative products to the market. From the lab bench to the bedside.”