Alumni-led company is helping people breathe

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Three former Union College roommates -- Dr. Richard Lazzaro ’86, Robert Israel ’85 and Robert Wiesenberg ’85 -- recently joined forces with Mayo Clinic.

Through this agreement, other strategic partnerships and investors, they and their company, Lazzaro Medical, will “help millions to breathe easily again.”

Lazzaro Medical

Robert Wiesenberg ’85, Dr. Richard Lazzaro ’86 and Robert Israel ’85

“Lazzaro Medical’s mission is to develop and provide innovative solutions for the diagnosis and treatment of tracheobronchomalacia (TBM), ensuring improved outcomes and enhanced quality of life for patients,” said Israel, company co-founder and chief development officer.

TBM is a progressive disease of the trachea (windpipe) and bronchial tubes in which supporting cartilage and other framework of the airways deteriorate. This leads to narrowing and potential collapse of these crucial breathing structures.

“Tracheobronchomalacia is a common disease that is uncommonly diagnosed. It affects a substantial number of individuals in the United States each year, with estimates suggesting a prevalence as high as 10 percent in the general population,” explained Lazzaro, chief medical officer and co-founder. “Notably, approximately half of the nation’s 16 million COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) patients are likely afflicted by TBM as well.”

Good treatment options for these TBM sufferers are difficult to come by. But Lazzaro Medical aims to change that with its pioneering new medical devices, surgical technique and diagnostic tools.

“Previous to Lazzaro Medical’s minimally invasive tracheal repair procedure, the most common form of treatment was a high-risk surgery called an open tracheobronchoplasty,” Lazzaro said. “This treatment, while effective, is a highly invasive, complex procedure for which few patients are eligible. The open procedure can be riskier than the disease itself as only a select few patients can undergo the up-to nine-hour procedure and lengthy hospital stay.”

By comparison, Lazzaro Medical’s technique – minimally invasive tracheal repair surgery ( MITR™) -- is robotically assisted and more efficient in restructuring the airway.

Since 2013, when Lazzaro performed the first MITR™, he has completed approximately 175 procedures – “with phenomenal results.”

With funding from strategic investors, including Northwell Health, New York State’s largest healthcare provider, the company is developing new medical devices to support its surgical technique and improve diagnosis of TBM.

And the October 2023 agreement Lazzaro Medical signed with Mayo Clinic will further raise awareness of tracheobronchomalacia and enhance patient care. It will also increase access to the minimally invasive surgery technique.

“Through this collaboration, we seek to reduce timelines in making this therapy available for the millions of patients who could greatly benefit,” Lazzaro said.

A more in-depth version of this story appears in the spring alumni magazine, due out in March 2024.


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