Mesa startup aims to help ease weight loss - East Valley Tribune: News

Mesa startup aims to help ease weight loss

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Posted: Sunday, September 27, 2009 12:11 pm | Updated: 3:11 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A Mesa company says it can help Americans slim down if they just breathe. Kemeta LLC, 2222 S. Dobson Road, has developed a palm-size sensor that tells how fast the user is burning fat just by exhaling into the device.

A Mesa company says it can help Americans slim down if they just breathe.

Kemeta LLC, 2222 S. Dobson Road, has developed a palm-size sensor that tells how fast the user is burning fat just by exhaling into the device.

The instrument does that by measuring the concentration of acetone in the breath. Acetone, one of the ketone group of compounds, is produced as fat is metabolized in the liver (thus the company’s name, KEtone METAbolism). The more that’s detected, the faster fat is being burned off.

President and Chief Executive Joan Vrtis thinks the breath analyzer has potential uses in treating obesity — a weighty health problem in the United States — as well as for those trying to improve their fitness.

“This is important because it allows people to gain a healthy lifestyle in a single breath,” said Vrtis said.

To those who say anyone could get the same information by just standing on a bathroom scale, Vrtis replies that weight can be distorted by water or muscle mass changes, and the rate of fat burn is the only true measure of the effectiveness of a diet or fitness program.

“Physicians really want a tool that shows fat loss,” she said. “When you’re trying to prevent obesity-related diseases, it’s really your fat weight that counts.”

Kemeta’s technology targets one of the major health problems in the United States. An estimated 127 million Americans are overweight, and many of them are at risk for weight-related disorders such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension, Vrtis said.

Weight-related diseases are costing $149 billion a year to treat in the U.S. — more than 10 percent of total health care expenses.

“That itself pays for the health care reform bill,” she said.

Vrtis formed Kemeta in 2007 to bring the monitor to market, purchasing the patented technology from Dow Chemical Co., which became her partner in the venture.

Vrtis, who earned a Ph.D. in polymer engineering from the University of Massachusetts and was involved in previous entrepreneurial ventures, had a personal interest in the technology because several of her family members had weight-related health problems.

After acquiring the technology, the startup simplified and improved the device and developed software that can transmit readings directly to a physician’s office, Vrtis said.

But it won’t be available at the corner drug store for a while.

The breath analyzer needs approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the company also is seeking several million dollars in venture capital to start marketing and manufacturing.

The credit crunch has delayed the company’s development by almost a year, Vrtis said, but “we are in discussions (with potential investors). Markets are opening up.”

The company has completed an 11-week clinical test at the Obesity Treatment Center Medical Group in Sacramento, Calif., which demonstrated that the device works.

The firm also is a finalist for the Arizona BioIndustry Association’s Fast Start Award, which recognizes the state’s most significant bioscience company founded after mid-2006.

Bob Eaton, president of the Arizona BioIndustry Association, said Kemeta was nominated because of the rapid progress the principals have made in a short time despite the credit freeze.

He added that several large multinational companies have agreed to market the breath analyzer once it’s approved for sale.

“They know what they are doing and what will sell in the marketplace,” Eaton said.

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