Outstanding Alumnus develops life-saving medical technology

(09-26-2012)

Passion and persistence have fueled the athletic, academic, and business achievements of Dr. James R. Matthie ’78, ’79. Numerous medical journals are predicting the medical device technology Matthie co-developed will save thousands of lives each year. The technology is known as Bioimpedance Spectroscopy (BIS). “I am pleased that my body of work is contributing to the world,” he said.

Matthie is Adams State’s 2012 Outstanding Alumnus and will accept the award at the Alumni Awards Banquet, Oct. 12.

According to the literature, BIS technology provides an objective means of determining fluid and nutritional status. BIS measures the amount of fluid inside versus outside the body’s cells. Matthie co-created BIS in the early ‘90s through the company he put together; Xitron Technologies, Inc. Matthie said the fluid outside the cells relates to hydration status, while the fluid within cells relates to the body’s protein stores, or muscle.

“Fluid is the largest component in the body, and until now, there was no method of accurately measuring it clinically,” Matthie said. Fluid overload (FO) is a major problem in kidney, liver, and cardiac disease, and muscle mass loss is common in malnutrition, cancer, and other wasting diseases. FO causes hypertension and heart failure.

In 2001, Fresenius Medical Care (FMC), the world’s largest kidney dialysis company, licensed Xitron’s BIS technology. Marketed as the Body Composition Monitor (BCM), it is used to identify and reduce the significant mortality caused by FO in the 250,000 kidney dialysis patients they treat, and is now marketed to other clinics globally. Severe FO is prevalent in 25% of the roughly two million patients on kidney dialysis.

“The average life span of a kidney dialysis patient is only five years, and it is understood that chronic FO is one of the major killers,” Matthie noted.

The device can also aid those who are overweight and obese. Over the past six years, Matthie has consulted with Dr. Rob Huizenga, diplomate for the American Board of Internal Medicine and associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Formerly the LA Raiders team physician, Huizenga created the weight loss program for the hit NBC reality weight-loss show “The Biggest Loser” (BL). “I was looking for a way to monitor body water changes in the BL contestants and was referred to Jim as being a world expert,” Huizenga said.

“We validated the Xitron BIS device on the show contestants and now use it to monitor their fat, muscle, and hydration status,” Matthie said. Their work is described in Matthie’s March 2008 article in Expert Reviews of Medical Devices, as well as in Huizenga’s book, Where Did All the Fat Go.

“Using BIS, we have documented something fundamentally ground shaking,” Huizenga went on. “The BL contestants lose massive amounts of weight while maintaining or gaining muscle, as compared to weight loss surgery folks, who lose weight but simultaneously shed large amounts of muscle.” Their findings will be presented at the upcoming Obesity Society meeting.

Driven by determination

Matthie, who received bachelor’s & master’s degrees in physical education from Adams State, was nominated for the award by his wife, Brittnei, who said his “passion and dedication to his dream” spurred him to secure the investment and engineering talent needed to complete his project.

“After founding Xitron, Jim defined and helped develop their BIS device, then got it validated through a research collaboration with the USDA,” she explained. “Jim then led a successful FDA submission for the product, and subsequently it was included in clinical studies at many prominent research institutions.” Xitron’s BIS technology was judged important by an NIH assessment in 1994, and used in the CDC national population study (NHANES-4).

A May 1997 article in the Journal of Applied Physiology that Matthie co-authored became the de facto operation manual for scientists around the world conducting research with BIS, a new and promising, but untested approach. Matthie’s 16 papers have been cited in nearly 700 other peer-reviewed journals.

Matthie talked about the challenges of bringing such a large project to fruition. “It has been an exciting and interesting ride – and ride describes it well. It was like trying to ride a rocket – I never had a chance, and I’m lucky to be able to tell the story.”

Now the managing partner of a new BIS device company, Spectral Z, Ltd., he received his doctorate from the US International University in San Diego in 1989.

Oasis of opportunity

Even as a student, Matthie was determined to succeed and reach his full potential. As 1976 Junior College All American, Matthie was recruited for Adams State’s nationally prominent wrestling team. Matthie said his first year wrestling for Adams State was “only mediocre,” so he began training four hours per day.

His persistence paid off. “I had a good senior year, although faltered at the end. I was at one point 18-2 and had placed second in the tough regional MIWA tournament and ranked sixth nationally.”

Intense athletic training and competition continued to play a part of his life for another decade. He placed third in the Oklahoma Open, earned a black belt in Judo, won the 1987 US Sombo nationals and competed in the ‘85 and ‘87 World Sombo Champion­ships in London and Italy. Sombo is a Russian national sport and recognized third style of international wrestling.

Matthie calls Adams State an “oasis” of educational opportunity for first-generation students and athletes. “Dr. Joe Vigil said to me in 1979, ‘Work hard and follow your heart, because you will have passion.’ That was all I needed to hear, and has defined my life since,” Matthie said. “Adams State is an amazing place. There is usually tension between athletics and academia, but at Adams State the two are melded to form a serious, tight-knit training ground for champions. Although Dr. Vigil’s blood runs through Adams State, it is the entire community of Alamosa that creates it all.”

Jody Thompson ‘70, retired director of athletics and Hall of Fame wrestling coach for Labette Community College in Parsons, Kan., met Matthie when both were clinicians at an Adams State "Cool Sunshine" wrestling camp.

“After a week of working beside each other, I knew that he was something special. He is very confidant and self-aware.” Thompson hired Matthie as Labette’s head baseball coach and assistant wrestling coach.

Matthie said Labette was in “baseball land,” surrounded by nationally ranked teams. His team played on a dirt field, but Matthie worked to improve the program. “With support from Thompson, the college and town, I took a losing program and built a new field, recruited, raised money, took the team on a ten-day road trip in a circus tent, and placed fourth in the NJCAA Region 6 Baseball Tournament, twice.”

Thompson admires Matthie’s extreme loyalty and sense of humor. “Be it to a friend, an organization or an institution, Jim is always and forever true-blue.”

Matthie lives in La Jolla, Calif., and is in discussion with a publisher regarding a book titled Will a Phys. Ed. major win the Nobel Prize? He said that as his prospects grow with BIS, it makes for an interesting story of personal achievement, as well as a reflection on the academic standards of Adams State.