For 17 years, Avalon Laboratories Inc. was content to manufacture medical life-support system components that other companies would sell under their own name.
Now with the help of private equity financing, the Rancho Dominguez medical device company is launching a name-brand line of medical tubing, known as cardiopulmonary vascular cannulae, which connects patients to life-support machines.
Avalon's new tubing product is designed to work with an alternative therapy for patients with severe respiratory failure. Traditionally, patients would be connected to a mechanical ventilator that pumps the lungs full of fresh oxygen and removes carbon dioxide from the blood. But that process can be hard on a weakened lung.
The newer technology, called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, draws blood out of the body, puts oxygen in the blood and then pumps it back in. This allows the lungs to rest and heal.
"It's essentially a process that lets people breathe through their blood," said Robert Foster, Avalon's founder and chief executive.
The procedure has been used to treat babies for several years, but is rarely used for adults. "We want to a part of this growing technology," Foster said.
The company plans to launch the first device in this line, called Avalon Elite, later this month.
For now, Avalon's main sales come from supplying tubing that connects patients to heart and lung machines, and other support devices.
Based on market data, Foster estimates his company, which made 2 million products last year, provides more than three-quarters of all wire-reinforced cannulae in use around the world.
A variety of the company's tubings are used during surgery and other medical procedures. The tubing can be inserted into a vein to administer intravenous fluids and medicines. Arterial tubings are used to measure blood pressure and to draw repeated blood samples during major operations. Other tubings administer oxygen through the nose.
Foster, an engineer, developed Avalon's core technology in 1982 while working at his father's South Bay plastics molding company. A device company representative had come into the shop, looking for medical tubing that could be easily inserted deep into the body during open-heart surgery without kinking.
In response, Foster developed a plastic dipping and layering process that allowed the embedding of a variety of round, flat or straight wire in the tubing.
In the mid-1980s, he bought out his father's share of the company and spun off the medical device division into Avalon Laboratories.
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