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TIA: Tennessee Inventors Association in Knoxville Tenn and Oak Ridge TN
Oak Ridge and Knoxville, TN  

April 2013 Dr. Gene Overholt

Meeting Date: 
April 27, 2013

The speaker for April 27 was Dr. Gene Overholt, co-founder and president of Gastrointestinal Associates in Knoxville.

Like other inventors, Dr. Overholt never stops thinking of how to solve problems. He solved his first major problem when he was an intern. He learned about flexible fiber optics. He then came up with a flexible endoscope that made colonoscopies much easier on the patient and the doctor.

It did not take long for the flexible fibers sigmoidoscope-colonoscope to become widely used. Currently, the procedure using his scope is the standard around the world. He sought the advice of another doctor about patenting his invention. He was advised that he would be tainted as looking for financial gain if he got a patent on his invention. He took the advice and did not patent his invention. Looking back, he realizes that he gave up a very lucrative invention, but he is satisfied that his invention is so widely used.

Dr. Overholt also investigated lasers and light for treatment and diagnoses. Working with Tuan Vo-Dinh of the ORNL's Life Sciences Division, Dr. Overholt has two patents relating to diagnosis and treatment of cancer. His patents were licensed, unfortunately, the company with the license allowed the patents to languish for many years and the technology has not been fully developed and used.

He is working on photo dynamic therapy (PDT) as a way to treat Barrett's esophagus. He also finds it easier to do basic research on animals instead of humans. So, he is working with The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Overholt also discussed ambulatory surgery centers. He is promoting their use and is seeing the number of surgery centers increase. Dr. Overholt was instrumental in developing the first licensed and certified endoscopic ambulatory surgery center in the United States in 1986. Gastrointestinal Associates is still going strong.

He wrapped up his presentation to the Tennessee Inventors Association by discussing colon cancer. The holy grail is to be able to detect colon cancer with a blood test. He said the technology is not there, yet. Fecal DNA testing is a new approach for colon cancer screening. But it is not yet approved for use. He advised all in attendance to ensure that they get periodic colonoscopies after age 50.