2005

2005 BMEidea Winners: What are they up to?

The 2005 BMEidea Winners: 1.5 years later

April 2005 saw the announcement of the first three winners of the BMEidea competition: Embolune from Stanford University, Cervical Bioimpedance from Johns Hopkins University, and Halo-Pack from Washington University in St. Louis. Eighteen months later we caught up with members from each of the ’05 teams to see what they were up to, how their project was going, and how participating in the BMEidea competition influenced their careers.


First prize
: Embolune, Stanford University

The Embolune team developed a novel way to treat a cerebral aneurysm—a bulging weak spot in an artery of the brain that, if ruptured, can cause seizures and even death. Current procedures for treating aneurysms are highly invasive, with risks and potential side effects significant enough that some patients choose to live with the possibility of rupture rather than have their aneurysms treated.

Recognizing the need for a lower-risk treatment, the team designed Embolune, a porous balloon mechanism that treats cerebral aneurysm less invasively. To use the invention, a surgeon navigates the balloon to the site of the aneurysm, then detaches it. A hardening polymer substance seeps through the balloon into the aneurysm space, creating a permanent clot that diverts blood flow away from the aneurysm.

A year and a half after winning BMEidea, the team members (Amy Lee, Neema Hekmat, and Pete Johnson) are still pursuing commercialization. They have continued developing the technology, creating a second prototype and conducting animal tests. Stanford, which owns the technology, has secured a non-provisional patent. And while they’ve made progress on the technology and IP front, according to team member Amy Lee raising market interest in the device up to this point has been a challenge. "We’ve been in licensing discussions with several companies," said Lee, "particularly Boston Scientific and one other company on the East coast with experience in microporous balloons. Our technology is still very early stage, however; we’ll have to develop it further before a licensing partner will fully commit."

Another impediment to the project’s success has been the fact that, alongside their work on Embolune, Lee, Hekmat and Johnson all work for other small medical start-ups in the San Francisco Bay Area. "There are only so many hours in the day," said Lee. "It would be very hard to put a lot of work into Embolune and do our jobs at the same time."

All is not lost for Embolune, however. The team remains dedicated to the project and, at the same time, the fact that each of the team members work for a small start-up speaks in part to the influence of the competition on their choice of career. When asked how BMEidea influenced her, Lee said, “In my case, I can say for sure that having participated in the BMEidea competition has helped me in my job. I feel like I’ve got a better handle on the entrepreneurial process: how to go about getting funding, how to explain and round out our proven concepts to investors and other interested parties. Without BMEidea, we would probably be just a bunch of engineers saying, ‘Let’s make this, or this,’ without considering the business end as much. There’s definitely a whole other side to starting a company other than just the technology, and participating in BMEidea and writing a business plan helped me understand how that other side works.”

“Having a wider viewpoint is liberating, and has made the entire process much more interesting.”


Second prize:
Measuring Bioimpedance in the Human Uterine Cervix: Toward Early Detection of Preterm Labor, Johns Hopkins University

Premature births, over 400,000 of which occur annually in the US, are associated with a higher risk of maternal and infant death as well as higher incidence of debilitating infant illnesses such as cerebral palsy, autism, mental retardation, and vision and hearing impairments. Although several tools currently on the market can predict when a pre-term delivery is about to occur, they don’t work early enough to safely and consistently administer labor-suppressing drugs.

Enter the Johns Hopkins team. Working on an idea developed by a JHU clinician, they designed a probe that allows physicians to accurately predict when preterm labor is about to occur by measuring subtle changes in cervical hydration. Using the data, physicians can predict the onset of labor early enough to safely administer labor-suppressing drugs and avoid premature birth.

This project has seen a lot of success already, both in terms of commercial success and student outcomes. First, the device has been patented by Johns Hopkins University and licensed to a serial entrepreneur, who is continuing prototype development and aggressively pursuing commercialization. $1.6 million in venture capital has been invested in the device to date, and clinical trials are expected to begin in England next year.

Though none of the original students are still working on the project, many have moved on to pursue their education in similar fields. One is enrolled as an MD/PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, one as a PhD student at JHU (also interested in continuing on the probe project), another as a PhD student at MIT, another is in medical school, another works at the National Institutes of Health, and the last is in industry. And they’ve taken their BMEidea experience with them. Melanie Ruffner, enrolled in the MD/PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh, said, “Although I plan to remain in academics, the E-Team experience was very valuable because it gave me exposure to how the biomedical device industry works. That experience will help me organize collaborations between academics and industry in my future career. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this program!”

The team’s faculty advisor at JHU, Dr. Robert Allen, agreed that all the students benefited by taking part. “I think that, while they were here, it definitely motivated them—they worked hard on this project, beyond the normal semester. And even just submitting and being considered for the award was a rewarding experience, let alone winning and receiving recognition.”


Third prize:
Halo-Pack, a Low-profile Cervical Spine Orthosis, Washington University in St. Louis

The “Halo” is a time-tested, familiar medical device that immobilizes a patient’s head, allowing the cervical spine to heal after a fracture or a surgery. The Halo design, however, has gone more or less unchanged for the last 45 years: it features a metal ring encircling the head which is then attached to a bulky clamshell vest by 2-4 posts. Although it excels at cervical immobilization, the Halo isn’t comfortable, and can pose a health threat if doctors need quick access to the patient’s head and neck in an emergency situation.

Looking to shore up the shortcomings of the current design, this team designed the Halo-Pack, a novel device that utilizes a single arm for cervical support positioned behind the head and attached to a remodeled harness, similar to a modern backpack. The pins attaching to the user’s skull are less protuberant, and the front of the ring is left open to keep the face exposed. The cumulative effect is a device that immobilizes the cervical spine while significantly reducing the profile of the apparatus and allowing for easier access to the head and neck.

A year and a half later, the Halo-Pack project continues to move toward commercialization. The design is complete, and the team is working on a sixth prototype. Washington University has a patent issued on it, and representatives are from WU are talking with several financial groups interested in investing in the technology. Eric Leuthardt, a WU neurosurgeon and advisor to the Halo-Pack team, said that “one of these groups is particularly interested in doing a startup/spinoff of the idea. We’re currently in negotiations with them to make that happen.”

Potential commercial success aside, Leuthardt believes the Halo-Pack project has had an effect on both the student team members and the institution itself. On the institutional side, a new neuroscience entrepreneurship center has been founded on campus, due partly to the Halo-Pack project experience. Said Leuthardt: “The relationships around the university that developed as a result of Halo-Pack and other projects like it helped spawn the center. These projects created novel relationships between physicians in the department of neurosurgery and engineers, and it’s that kind of cross-hybridization—that exchange of ideas across disciplines—that leads to new innovations. The experience of Halo-Pack was one of the grassroots projects that led to the larger effort.”

And while none of the original students remain on the team, having all started their careers or entered graduate school, the BMEidea experience was again found to be engaging and worthwhile. Team member Elizabeth Tran said that “working with such a diverse team of professors, doctors, and students was a great experience that I’ve carried with me into the work force. The opportunity helped us realize our love for biomedical and engineering design.”

For his part, Leuthardt believes that E-Team projects like Halo-Pack are beneficial to both students and faculty. “For the students,” he said, “it’s a unique chance to work alongside engineering professors, neurosurgeons, and others, all in a collegial, non-hierarchical environment where we’re all capitalizing on each other’s strengths. Students have young, enthusiastic minds, and participating in a cross-disciplinary environment gives them broad exposure to different people doing different things. On the faculty side, we get charged up just being around enthusiastic people. It gets us excited about things that we sometimes view as mundane or tiring. It really recharges our batteries.”

Commercialization of Low Cost Infrared Imaging for Medical Applications

University of Massachusetts, Lowell, 2005 - $20,000

This E-Team developed an infrared imaging system for medical diagnosis. The team envisions the imaging system as a low-cost alternative to X-rays, possibly helping make medical diagnostic equipment more readily available in developing countries.

Ocean Wave Energy Buoy

Oregon State University, 2005 - $11,000

This E-Team developed a novel, contactless, magnet-based buoy to capture the ocean's wave energy and convert it into electrical energy. By "contactless" the team means that previous buoy designs have used hydraulic or pneumatic approaches, which create physical contact between the piston and cylinder, leading to system damage during rough storms as well as decreased efficiency, while their design employs magnets for contactless mechanical energy transmission. The magnets are configured in a piston, producing radial magnetic flux that transmits a generator load to the cylinder; the motion of the piston is transformed to rotation using a ball screw to drive the permanent magnet rotary generator. Thick cables attached to the bottom of the buoy connect it to an electrical grid on the mainland.

The team created a proof-of-concept prototype that showed an overall system efficiency of 70-80%. The goal of this grant was not so much to commercialize a product immediately, but to further prototype and test their design to enable commercial-scale devices in the future.

Economic and Technical Feasibility Study for Planar Membraneless Micro-fluidic Fuel Cell

Cornell University, 2005 - $20,000

This E-Team undertook two separate activities: prototyping its micro-fuel cell technology, and creating a long-term marketing plan. The technology is PM2, a novel planar, micro-fluidic, membraneless micro-fuel cell that relies on laminar flow of fuel and oxidant solutions. Initial lab tests demonstrated that the design has the potential to deliver superior power density to portable electronic devices when compared with competing membrane and membraneless fuel cell designs.

The team continued prototyping PM2 to go from a 1-mW lab device to a 10-watt commercial prototype with an appropriate price. Alongside prototype development the team identified manufacturing, distribution, sales, and venture capital partners, segmented markets, determined market entry point, and identified partners for commercialization. The primary target markets are the defense and industrial sectors, specifically in the areas of portable power, wireless scanning, and communication devices.

Low-Cost Water Purification System for Developing Countries and Other Applications

Illinois Institute of Technology, 2005 - $16,000

This E-Team developed a clay-based water purification system for household use in developing countries. The system consists of a ceramic filter element, made of kiln-fired clay treated with colloidal silver, set in a plastic receptacle tank with a plastic lid and spigot. These filters have been produced and promoted in Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia, but have not been widely adopted due to poor financial planning and failures in meeting the expected amount and quality of water produced. The team improved the filtration system and at the same time developed customized training that creates broader awareness, encouraging adoption on a much larger scale, and stimulating local production and support.

Biotechnology System to Monitor the Health of Wastewater Treatment Plants

University of Colorado at Boulder, 2005 - $15,650

Water scarcity is the biggest challenge of the 21st century, and proper wastewater treatment is critical to public and environmental health because it protects and recycles the limited supply of fresh water. Throughout the world, billions of gallons of industrial and domestic sewage are treated in centralized wastewater facilities through the acceleration of natural biodegradation processes, relying on a balance of healthy microbes for optimal performance. This E-Team developed an innovative biotechnology system to monitor and diagnose common microbiological problems that interfere with the reclamation of wastewater in sewage treatment plants worldwide. Problems often result from undesired blooms of microbes, but many microbes do not yield to cultivation, the traditional method of identification. The team's DNA sequence-based technology allows microbes to be detected and identified without cultivation to determine relative quantities in a sample. Once problem microbes are identified, treatment plants can design and apply the appropriate remedy with quantitative information from the team's Biotechnology System.

Secure E-Payment System

University of Maryland, 2005 - $14,837

This E-Team developed SecureGo-Cash, a USB flash drive equipped with encryption capability for secure online transactions. When connected to a USB port, SecureGo-Cash prompts the user for a password. Each SecureGo-Cash has a unique Machine ID, and once the user enters her password, she logs into any SecureGo-enabled website, uses the Machine ID as her identity, and completes a transaction. The website connects to the SecureGo server, verifies the authenticity of the request, and transfers the amount from the user's account to the merchant's account. Additionally, the user can set up a cash recovery account with SecureGo-Cash, and if the device is lost or stolen, can transfer the balance to this recovery account.

Fire Extinguisher Training System (Bullex)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2005 - $13,977

Bullex, launched at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received Advanced E-Team grants in 2003, 2004 and 2005 to develop the Intelligent Training System (ITS), an innovative fire extinguisher training device. The majority of today's live-fire extinguisher training is done by taking a bucket and filling it with kerosene or diesel, and water. After an instructor lights the fire, a trainee is given an extinguisher and told to put it out. This method is expensive, can be dangerous, and often requires a HAZMAT cleanup.

ITS makes fire extinguisher training more efficient by simulating the extinguishing of a real fire, removing costly extinguishant from the equation. First, flames are generated in a clean-burning, propane-fed pan equipped with digital sensors. If users aim properly and hit the sensors, they can quell the fire without the mess. The sensors then give out a reading on how well a trainee used the extinguisher. The device is cleaner, safer, and easier to use than the traditional training method.

2003 update: Bullex launched successfully in 2003, and now has 60 employees and estimated annual sales of $7.3 million. The company was featured in Fortune Small Business Magazine after making it to the final round of the magazine's national business plan competition, receiving honorable mention. Their customers include the US Navy, Northrop Grumman, Michelin, International Truck, and Trane.

2012 update: Bullex was acquired by Ohio company Lion Apparel, which makes clothing for fire fighters.

Percutaneous Large Arteriotomy Site Closure

Stanford University, 2005 - $16,675

Arteriotomies (the surgical incision of an artery) are required for all catheter-based procedures. Current medical practice requires a large, open incision, an invasive procedure which increases recovery time, hospital and procedure costs, and patient discomfort. To combat these problems, this E-Team developed a device that closes large arteriotomies percutaneously--that is, closes them through the skin in a minimally invasive procedure. The device consists of two components: a vessel-cutting tool, which creates an incision in the vessel of the specific size and shape of the catheter to be used, and a closure mechanism, made of a pre-placed nitinol structure, that provides complete hemostasis to the arteriotomy when the catheter is removed.

Time-Temperature Integrator Advanced E-Team

University of Florida, 2005 - $15,700

This E-Team is concentrating on the problem of the perishability of food and pharmaceutical items. Currently there are two methods of ensuring food/pharmaceutical safety: human predication of expiration, and chemical tags that change color upon product expiration. The E-Team aims to combat the deficiencies of these methods by developing a Time-Temperature Integrator (TTI) tag which, in a 1x2 inch housing, incorporates a temperature measure, a microprocessor, and an RF transceiver. Instead of using the color-change method, these tags record the temperature and time at thirty-second intervals. A calculation of shelf-life is then made based upon a proprietary algorithm that takes into account the current time/temperature and the optimal shelf-life of perishables under those specific conditions. A report of time, temperature and freshness is then sent to a wireless device.

The Expedition Walker

Portland State University, 2005 - $9,050

This E-Team developed an improved walking device that incorporates removable wheels, shock absorbers on each of the four legs, height and width adjustment, a lightweight frame with a wider base at the rear, and detachable accessories such as a seat, basket, cupholder, and more. The team had the full support of Keen Mobility, an NCIIA alumnus and developer of mobility devices for the medical field, allowing the team access to Keen Mobility's resources, relationships with external manufacturing partners, external expert advice, and testing facilities. Moreover, this relationship led the team to adopt Keen Mobility's direct-to-customer distribution model, which should reduce promotional costs significantly.

Design and Construction of a Hybrid Energy System in Kenya: The Precursor to a Manufacturing Capability

Pennsylvania State University, 2005 - $12,000

As part of the Engineers for a Sustainable World program at PSU, this course involved students in creating a hybrid solar/wind power system in Ngegu village in the Division of Rangwe, Kenya, with particular emphasis on water pumps to provide clean water. Currently, residents have to travel a few kilometers to retrieve water that is often polluted, or, worse, has dried up, leading to waterborne disease and high mortality rates. The team also designed a sisal decorticator--a machine that more efficiently harvests the fibers of the sisal plant. Currently these fibers are harvested using a painstakingly slow process that requires entire families to be engaged in harvesting throughout the day.

This project was worked on by four institutions at once: a PSU team of engineering students designed a windmill in conjunction with an engineering team at the University of Nairobi, who initiated the project; a team of business students enrolled in the Introduction to Entrepreneurship course at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) developed a business model for generating funds to support the project; students from all three institutions formed an entrepreneurship team that continued to engage in fundraising and developed a business model; and the Kochia Development Group, an organization of Kenyan businessmen and women who actively seek projects to improve rural Kenya, provided mentoring and feedback to ensure the project is socially and economically feasible.

Ultra Low Cost Portable Electronic Notebook for School Children in Underdeveloped Countries

Brown University, 2005 - $19,000

This E-Team developed an inexpensive, collapsible electronic notebook that can be rolled out for viewing and rolled back into compact form to be carried around. The team's goal is to pair the technology with sub-hundred dollar computers currently under development and get them in the hands of African schoolchildren, 48% of which have no access to textbooks. The team's major innovation is in the area of flexible conductors for the collapsible display: their proprietary conductor technology can exceed strains of 20% without loss of electrical performance, compared to the current industry standard of 1-2%.

Seguro: Pesticide Protection and Warning System

University of California, Berkeley, 2005 - $20,000

This E-Team developed a system of products to protect Central California farmworkers from chronic pesticide exposure, which can lead to a wide range of short-term and long-term health effects including cancer, birth defects, and diminished reproductive ability. The team developed two different technologies to combat the problem: a protective suit for the workers and pesticide sensors for their homes. The suit is made from breathable, repellent Tyvek, Teflon and activated charcoal; it consists of overalls with one shoulder strap, an apron over the other shoulder, a hood, a ventilation mask with a carbon filter, gloves, and shoe coverings. The sensors, which incorporate smart dust mote technology to form wireless sensor networks, are designed to detect and record levels of pesticides, providing both an instantaneous alert when pesticides are detected and a long-term record of pesticide exposure, to be used by government agencies like OSHA and EPA in developing case histories of pesticide problems. The team chose the brand name Seguro, which means "safety" in Spanish.

Micro/Meso Scale Machine Tool Development for the Manufacture of Small Precision Parts

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2005 - $18,590

Micro-manufacturing (the production of components with feature sizes smaller than 1mm) is a large and rapidly growing manufacturing sector. Micro-manufacturing machines make parts for both high-volume (iPods, cell phones, etc.) and high-value (surgical devices, military components, etc.) products, but in both cases the machines currently on the market are slow, expensive, large, and difficult to use.

This E-Team, now incorporated as Microlution, has developed a new type of machine, called a Micro/meso-scale machine tool (mMT), that is smaller, less expensive, and more efficient than traditional micro-manufacturing machines. The company is on its feet and growing rapidly, and in 2007 began selling the Microlution 310-S.

i-conserve Energy Management System

Pennsylvania State University, 2005 - $15,750

While energy conservation is becoming increasingly important in today's world, there is no convenient, inexpensive, easy-to-use energy monitoring and control product for residential and small business markets. To fill the void, this E-Team developed i-conserve, an energy conservation solution for small businesses and homes that consists of a wireless sensor network of modules (outlets), a base station that acts as a hub for the information in the network, and software that modifies energy settings in order to maximize efficiency and also provides the user with recommendations on how to improve efficiency. The base station is a USB ZigBee dongle (an electronic device that must be attached to a computer in order for it to use protected software) that allows a computer to communicate with the ZigBee mesh network. ZigBee itself is a new advancement in wireless sensor network technology that represents a reduction in cost and power consumption.

The team received a small amount of funding as part of the 2002 "E-SHIP Venture Fund and Competitions" Course and Program grant to PSU. The team has already begun prototyping, attended a ZigBee conference to begin networking, and filed two provisional patents.

A Novel Aortic Endograft with Adhesive-mediated Fixation and Seal for Endovascular Treatment of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms

Stanford University, 2005 - $15,898

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a dangerous swelling of the abdominal aorta, the vascular conduit that supplies oxygenated blood to the legs. Rupture of AAAs account for 15,000 deaths annually in the US. Open surgical repair of AAAs is currently the gold standard therapy, but comes with significant drawbacks: mid-procedure mortality rates range from 1.4-7.6%, and a number of patients are ineligible for the surgery because they cannot tolerate its invasiveness. As an alternative to open surgical repair, many new stent-grafts have been developed that slide into the aorta and essentially exclude the aneurysm from circulation. These devices are seen as a promising treatment that could reduce mortality rates, patient recovery time, and procedural costs, yet current stent-grafts are suboptimal: only about half of AAA patients are eligible for stent-graft treatment because of the varying anatomy of aneurysms, and the stent-grafts themselves suffer from long-term durability issues involving leaking and the migration of the devices from the site of the aneurysm. To address these issues this E-Team proposes to develop a stent-graft with an adhesive delivery platform that actively seals the stent-graft and fixes it securely in place in the aorta.

Update: the team, now incorporated as Endoluminal Sciences, has received $2 million in venture capital funding and is moving toward clinical trials.

A Novel System to Improve the Efficacy of Percutaneous Catheter Ablation of Atrial Fibrillation

Stanford University, 2005 - $7,250

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a cardiac rhythm disorder that can lead to heart palpitations, chest pain, and clot formation that can lead to strokes. Medications used to control the symptoms of AF have had limited success and come with significant side effects. Recent research suggests that AF is caused by electrically abnormal cells in the right and left side pulmonary veins; with this in mind, percutaneous catheter techniques have been developed in which a catheter is used to ablate (destroy) the conducting tissue around the abnormal cells, electrically isolating them so that they cannot initiate AF. However, this procedure has had limited success due to the fact that the catheter cannot always access the right-sided pulmonary veins given their physical location in the body and the variability of pulmonary vein anatomy from person to person.

To address this issue, this E-Team developed a novel sheath system that can target a catheter directly toward the right-sided pulmonary veins, leading to more effective AF ablations. The sheath system utilizes an anchored trans-septal sheath and an inner, pre-shaped guiding sheath to direct the ablation catheter directly toward right-sided pulmonary veins. The team also designed several inner sheaths to optimize the targeting of the catheter depending on whether the right superior, right inferior, or both right-sided pulmonary veins together are being isolated.

2005 BMEidea Winners - What are they up to?

The 2005 BMEidea Winners: 1.5 years later

April 2005 saw the announcement of the first three winners of the BMEidea competition: Embolune from Stanford University, Cervical Bioimpedance from Johns Hopkins University, and Halo-Pack from Washington University in St. Louis. Eighteen months later we caught up with members from each of the ’05 teams to see what they were up to, how their project was going, and how participating in the BMEidea competition influenced their careers.


First prize
: Embolune, Stanford University

The Embolune team developed a novel way to treat a cerebral aneurysm—a bulging weak spot in an artery of the brain that, if ruptured, can cause seizures and even death. Current procedures for treating aneurysms are highly invasive, with risks and potential side effects significant enough that some patients choose to live with the possibility of rupture rather than have their aneurysms treated.

Recognizing the need for a lower-risk treatment, the team designed Embolune, a porous balloon mechanism that treats cerebral aneurysm less invasively. To use the invention, a surgeon navigates the balloon to the site of the aneurysm, then detaches it. A hardening polymer substance seeps through the balloon into the aneurysm space, creating a permanent clot that diverts blood flow away from the aneurysm.

A year and a half after winning BMEidea, the team members (Amy Lee, Neema Hekmat, and Pete Johnson) are still pursuing commercialization. They have continued developing the technology, creating a second prototype and conducting animal tests. Stanford, which owns the technology, has secured a non-provisional patent. And while they’ve made progress on the technology and IP front, according to team member Amy Lee raising market interest in the device up to this point has been a challenge. "We’ve been in licensing discussions with several companies," said Lee, "particularly Boston Scientific and one other company on the East coast with experience in microporous balloons. Our technology is still very early stage, however; we’ll have to develop it further before a licensing partner will fully commit."

Another impediment to the project’s success has been the fact that, alongside their work on Embolune, Lee, Hekmat and Johnson all work for other small medical start-ups in the San Francisco Bay Area. "There are only so many hours in the day," said Lee. "It would be very hard to put a lot of work into Embolune and do our jobs at the same time."

All is not lost for Embolune, however. The team remains dedicated to the project and, at the same time, the fact that each of the team members work for a small start-up speaks in part to the influence of the competition on their choice of career. When asked how BMEidea influenced her, Lee said, “In my case, I can say for sure that having participated in the BMEidea competition has helped me in my job. I feel like I’ve got a better handle on the entrepreneurial process: how to go about getting funding, how to explain and round out our proven concepts to investors and other interested parties. Without BMEidea, we would probably be just a bunch of engineers saying, ‘Let’s make this, or this,’ without considering the business end as much. There’s definitely a whole other side to starting a company other than just the technology, and participating in BMEidea and writing a business plan helped me understand how that other side works.”

“Having a wider viewpoint is liberating, and has made the entire process much more interesting.”


Second prize:
Measuring Bioimpedance in the Human Uterine Cervix: Toward Early Detection of Preterm Labor, Johns Hopkins University

Premature births, over 400,000 of which occur annually in the US, are associated with a higher risk of maternal and infant death as well as higher incidence of debilitating infant illnesses such as cerebral palsy, autism, mental retardation, and vision and hearing impairments. Although several tools currently on the market can predict when a pre-term delivery is about to occur, they don’t work early enough to safely and consistently administer labor-suppressing drugs.

Enter the Johns Hopkins team. Working on an idea developed by a JHU clinician, they designed a probe that allows physicians to accurately predict when preterm labor is about to occur by measuring subtle changes in cervical hydration. Using the data, physicians can predict the onset of labor early enough to safely administer labor-suppressing drugs and avoid premature birth.

This project has seen a lot of success already, both in terms of commercial success and student outcomes. First, the device has been patented by Johns Hopkins University and licensed to a serial entrepreneur, who is continuing prototype development and aggressively pursuing commercialization. $1.6 million in venture capital has been invested in the device to date, and clinical trials are expected to begin in England next year.

Though none of the original students are still working on the project, many have moved on to pursue their education in similar fields. One is enrolled as an MD/PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, one as a PhD student at JHU (also interested in continuing on the probe project), another as a PhD student at MIT, another is in medical school, another works at the National Institutes of Health, and the last is in industry. And they’ve taken their BMEidea experience with them. Melanie Ruffner, enrolled in the MD/PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh, said, “Although I plan to remain in academics, the E-Team experience was very valuable because it gave me exposure to how the biomedical device industry works. That experience will help me organize collaborations between academics and industry in my future career. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this program!”

The team’s faculty advisor at JHU, Dr. Robert Allen, agreed that all the students benefited by taking part. “I think that, while they were here, it definitely motivated them—they worked hard on this project, beyond the normal semester. And even just submitting and being considered for the award was a rewarding experience, let alone winning and receiving recognition.”


Third prize:
Halo-Pack, a Low-profile Cervical Spine Orthosis, Washington University in St. Louis

The “Halo” is a time-tested, familiar medical device that immobilizes a patient’s head, allowing the cervical spine to heal after a fracture or a surgery. The Halo design, however, has gone more or less unchanged for the last 45 years: it features a metal ring encircling the head which is then attached to a bulky clamshell vest by 2-4 posts. Although it excels at cervical immobilization, the Halo isn’t comfortable, and can pose a health threat if doctors need quick access to the patient’s head and neck in an emergency situation.

Looking to shore up the shortcomings of the current design, this team designed the Halo-Pack, a novel device that utilizes a single arm for cervical support positioned behind the head and attached to a remodeled harness, similar to a modern backpack. The pins attaching to the user’s skull are less protuberant, and the front of the ring is left open to keep the face exposed. The cumulative effect is a device that immobilizes the cervical spine while significantly reducing the profile of the apparatus and allowing for easier access to the head and neck.

A year and a half later, the Halo-Pack project continues to move toward commercialization. The design is complete, and the team is working on a sixth prototype. Washington University has a patent issued on it, and representatives are from WU are talking with several financial groups interested in investing in the technology. Eric Leuthardt, a WU neurosurgeon and advisor to the Halo-Pack team, said that “one of these groups is particularly interested in doing a startup/spinoff of the idea. We’re currently in negotiations with them to make that happen.”

Potential commercial success aside, Leuthardt believes the Halo-Pack project has had an effect on both the student team members and the institution itself. On the institutional side, a new neuroscience entrepreneurship center has been founded on campus, due partly to the Halo-Pack project experience. Said Leuthardt: “The relationships around the university that developed as a result of Halo-Pack and other projects like it helped spawn the center. These projects created novel relationships between physicians in the department of neurosurgery and engineers, and it’s that kind of cross-hybridization—that exchange of ideas across disciplines—that leads to new innovations. The experience of Halo-Pack was one of the grassroots projects that led to the larger effort.”

And while none of the original students remain on the team, having all started their careers or entered graduate school, the BMEidea experience was again found to be engaging and worthwhile. Team member Elizabeth Tran said that “working with such a diverse team of professors, doctors, and students was a great experience that I’ve carried with me into the work force. The opportunity helped us realize our love for biomedical and engineering design.”

For his part, Leuthardt believes that E-Team projects like Halo-Pack are beneficial to both students and faculty. “For the students,” he said, “it’s a unique chance to work alongside engineering professors, neurosurgeons, and others, all in a collegial, non-hierarchical environment where we’re all capitalizing on each other’s strengths. Students have young, enthusiastic minds, and participating in a cross-disciplinary environment gives them broad exposure to different people doing different things. On the faculty side, we get charged up just being around enthusiastic people. It gets us excited about things that we sometimes view as mundane or tiring. It really recharges our batteries.”

2005 BMEidea Winners

First prize: A Novel Treatment for Cerebral Aneurysm

- Stanford University

Fifteen thousand people die in the US each year from ruptured brain aneurysms, and many have to choose between the risks of treatment or of rupture. The Embolune, a microporous balloon device, reduces the risk of treatment. The MedGen team has developed a novel method to safely deposit a hardening polymer material into the aneurysm space, creating a permanent clot that prevents the aneurysm from further growth.

 

Second prize: Bioimpedance Probe to Detect Preterm Labor

- Johns Hopkins University

Premature birth is the major determinant of long-term health problems in children. This team has designed a bioimpedance probe that measures subtle changes in cervical hydration, enabling accurate, tissue-level analysis toe predict the onset of preterm labor.

 

Third prize: The Halo-Pack: A Low-profile Cervical Spine Orthosis

- Washington University

The Halo device immobilizes a patient’s head, allowing the cervical spine to heal after a fracture or a surgery—its design has remained essentially unchanged for 45 years. This team’s novel Halo design significantly reduces the profile of the apparatus and allows for easier access to the head and neck. Patients can wear normal clothing and sleep comfortably, with safer access to the airways and chest.

What the 2005 winners were up to 1.5 years after winning

Entrepreneurship beyond Literacy and Resource Barriers: A Proposal for Cross-Functional Course Development and Delivery

University of California-Santa Barbara

With this project, NCIIA supports the creation of Developing Products and Markets for Subsistence Marketplaces, a two-course sequence in which teams of engineering and business graduate students identify a general need in the developing world, conduct market research, and develop a prototype, manufacturing plan, marketing strategy and business plan. The course will begin in the fall semester of 2006, with students focusing on setting project objectives, understanding the context they’re designing for, and learning about the process of product development. Over Thanksgiving break the teams will travel to India, the first target area of the course, to do first-hand market research, and the remainder of the semester will be spent developing specific product concepts. The spring semester will be spent working the concepts up into prototypes, and developing manufacturing, marketing, and business plans

Teaching Structural Design, Construction Practices, and Sustainable Technologies for Mitigation of Natural Disaster Damages in Coastal and Fault Areas of Developing Regions

Vanderbilt University

This project supports the development of a two-semester course sequence for seniors focusing on design and construction to mitigate the impacts of earthquakes on residential structures in developing regions. Through lectures, guest speakers, mentorship and on-site visits, students will be introduced to structural dynamics, passive seismic control, low-tech and low-cost alternative construction techniques, value engineering and socioeconomics. The course will be made up of about fifteen engineering and architecture students divided into three or four E-Teams, each assigned an industry mentor.

The E-Teams will research and design solutions, and build and test prototypes in a Structural Control and A-seismic Research (SCARE) lab. They will document their progress in a report, including a business plan for field implementation of the proposed solution, and visit a selected community in a developing region to implement their solution.

Among the educational outcomes, students will be taught the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, and environmental context, with an emphasis on design to save lives in earthquake regions

Off Nicotine Smoking Cessation Program for Primary Care Settings

Case Western Reserve University, 2005 - $17,800

This E-Team developed a comprehensive tobacco cessation program that can be used by doctors and nurses in everyday primary health care situations. At the moment doctors typically spend little time trying to convince patients that smoke to quit due to constraints on time and the lack of an efficient, effective cessation program tailored to the clinical setting. The team’s program is an adaptation of one they developed and successfully implemented at Case Western, called the “Off (Officially free from) Nicotine” program. The Off program includes four weekly group sessions for smokers that focus on 1) self-assessment; 2) a personal strategic plan for quitting; 3) the cessation session; and 4) relapse prevention. This project allowed for adaptation of the support group format into shorter, individual counseling sessions run by doctors and nurses during regular office visits. Specifically, the team’s program includes: a workbook for smokers, with contents based around the smoker’s cessation strategy; the employment of a five-step cognitive restructuring procedure, based on a successful four-step procedure used to change behavior in Obsessive Compulsive Disease patients; relaxation techniques involving self-hand and self-ear massage to diminish symptoms of withdrawal; the use of Exhaled Carbon Monoxide (Ex CO) monitors to measure the level of one of the toxic agents in tobacco smoke present in the smoker’s body, and to track their progress; and lastly, the development of technology to allow for palmtop/tablet audio administration of the smoker’s clinical information, which results in an automatically generated report available to the physician before he enters the room.

A Method to Prevent Airway Obstruction in Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Stanford University, 2005 - $20,000

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a clinical disorder characterized by instability of the upper airway during sleep, leading to frequent episodes of breathing cessation (apnea) or decreased airflow, during which the patient has a brief arousal from sleep that allows for the resumption of breathing. These episodes can occur 400-500 times per night, resulting in excessive daytime sleepiness that can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular events, stroke, car accidents, and premature death. There are numerous treatments for OSA currently on the market, but most of them have poor efficacy, poor patient compliance due to discomfort, and/or are very invasive. In response to this market need, this E-Team developed the Minimally Invasive Tongue Advancement Device (MiTAD), a tongue implant made of shape memory material that decreases the risk of obstruction during sleep by bringing the tongue upwards and forwards, increasing the cross-sectional area of the airway. The device can be implanted in an outpatient setting using a catheter-like delivery system: the implant is compressed and packed into the delivery system, then inserted by making a puncture in the lower aspect of the chin.

The E-Team believes its procedure is less invasive than current OSA treatments, provides for more accurate advancement of the tongue, allows the patient adequate tongue movement during speaking and swallowing, and comes at a low cost.

Internet Security Company

University of Georgia, 2005 - $20,000

This E-Team developed the SecureWebSurfer (SWS) USB Key, a technology that enhances computer security while surfing the Internet. SWS is a USB drive that contains a pre-installed Linux Operating System, a Firefox web browser, and no writeable memory. A user inserts the SWS before turning on her computer, and within thirty seconds of power-up an active web browser appears, allowing the user full Internet access. While using the key, no viruses, worms, or other damaging software can be downloaded to the user’s computer because of the key’s lack of writeable memory and the fact that the key prevents access to the computer’s writeable memory, eliminating almost all security risks associated with today’s computers. Once the key is removed, the computer returns to its original functionality.

Nandex

Georgia Institute of Technology, 2005 - $19,750

Emissions trading, in which companies that exceed government-controlled pollution limits may buy emissions credits from companies that are able to stay below the designated limits, is a burgeoning market, growing 100% each of the last two years. Active participation in the carbon market requires that you have accurate models to predict the movement of carbon prices; however, these models can only be as good as the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data on which they rely. Currently the available environmental data are of relatively low spatial and temporal resolution. This E-Team capitalized on the need for high-resolution GHG data by developing an interactive two-dimensional map that uses the most reliable satellite, aerial, and land-based sensor data to detail the concentration and movement of carbon dioxide around the world. Through an online point-and-click interface, customers can access the GHG concentration map, the locations of the primary sources, sinks, and emissions offset projects around the globe, and relevant weather data.

Wheelchair-Mounted Pelvic Restraint

University of Pittsburgh, 2005 - $15,250

Wheelchair-bound individuals frequently use minivans, para-transit vans, public transportation and private vehicles as means of transportation. While their wheelchairs are usually tied down to prevent them from moving during normal driving conditions or in the event of an accident, the individual relies mainly on a nylon safety belt system (similar to a conventional seat belt) that is both unwieldy and frequently disused. This E-Team developed a rigid restraint system mounted to the user’s wheelchair, securing the occupant in position at the level of the pelvis. The restraint is composed of two halves of a mechanical, rigid, padded bar attached to the side of the wheelchair. A ratchet system fits into place around the user’s pelvis, and a spring-loaded release lever allows the user to unlock the restraint from either side of the wheelchair.

Program to Support Computer Applications for Medicine

University of Tulsa

This project seeks to create a new type of senior thesis program at the University of Virginia. Currently, over the course of a nine-month period, engineering students write an individual thesis that identifies, analyzes and offers a solution to a specific technical challenge. With this project, UVA will move away from traditional (individual) research and toward multidisciplinary student collaboration by having E-Teams develop computer applications for use in the medical field. In liaison with the university’s school of medicine, each team will identify a medical need, suggest a solution, devise and test a prototype and follow the development cycle through to commercial viability.

Four E-Teams (each with three members) will be created during the first two years. Thereafter, it is assumed that more seniors from the annual pool of 450 individuals will join E-Teams; they will be selected on a competitive basis

International Social Entrepreneurship through Multidisciplinary Student E-Team Projects

Wake Forest University

Microfinancing is the delivery of financial services to the economically poor on a large scale and in a sustainable manner. While this approach has been highly successful tool for fighting poverty on a global scale, the small loans ($50-$500) require loan processing and labor–intensive activities that result in high transaction costs. With this project, Lehigh will develop E-Teams focusing on the implementation of pilot microfinance technology in developing countries, beginning in Honduras. The projects will include:
  • A rigorous application and selection process
  • An international immersion trip with students and faculty mentors
  • Experiential learning based on tackling real problems with external clients
  • Multidisciplinary student teams developing technologies and technology services

From Discovery to Commercialization: Development of the Greater Phoenix Nanotechnology Innovation Pathway and Pipeline

Dartmouth College

With this project, faculty at Arizona State University are developing an interdisciplinary undergraduate program with a focus on nanotechnology. The program, called Nanotechnology: Perspectives and Entrepreneurial Opportunities, draws together students with backgrounds in science, business, engineering, public policy, communication, pre-law and pre-medicine and forges links with industry and the regional entrepreneurial community.

The course curriculum defines nanotechnology, explores its underlying technologies and tools, and address issues of education and public understanding. Two main points of interest are emphasized: nanotechnology per se and environmental nanotechnology. Example projects include nanobiosensing, drug delivery systems, and recovery of materials in waste prevention. Five or six E-Teams form each year and are exposed to start-up and management concepts, strategic planning, business development, sales/marketing and team building. By completion of the program, students have developed skills in generating hypotheses, problem solving, cooperative learning, teamwork, patent dvelopment, and licensing and product marketing, in addition to having an increased understanding of creativity, innovation and leadership

The NUberwalker: Low Cost Body Weight Supported Treadmill Training System

Northwestern University, $15,500

This E-Team developed the NUberwalker, a Body Weight Support Treadmill Training (BWSTT) system that helps with the physical rehabilitation of stroke and spinal cord injury patients. The NUberwalker consists of a triangular frame that arches over the treadmill like a swing set, bungee cords, and a harness. Once the user is strapped into the harness, he or she presses a button to tension the bungee cords to the desired level of support, and starts the treadmill.

There are other BSWTT systems in rehabilitation centers and hospitals, but they are usually large, complex and expensive. The team reasons that an in-home BSWTT system would allow for more frequent training between physical therapy sessions, as well as ongoing in-home training following the completion of physical therapy, improving patient recovery time.

EcoTech Marine: VorTech

Lehigh University, 2005 - $18,738

 

Maintaining a reef aquarium requires adequate water circulation to balance water chemistry, carry nutrients to inhabitants, and remove waste, all of which can be accomplished by means of a pump system. The EcoTech Marine E-Team developed a new and improved pump, the VorTech™, which creates a natural wave-like water flow while minimizing the intrusion of heat and bulky equipment into the reef environment.

The team designed the pump to attach magnetically on either side of the tank glass, allowing the electric motor to reside outside the tank, while the propeller can be set to create a variety of surge types. Competitors’ pumps generally produce jet-stream water flows, as opposed to VorTech’s wave-like surges.

Update: The EcoTech team has gone on to form a successful aquarium products company. Visit their website here.

Sustainable Shelter Design

California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, 2005 - $18,400

Habitat 21, a sustainable settlements project from the John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona, performed a long-range study on improving housing options in impoverished neighborhoods in Tijuana. These neighborhoods are currently served by Corazon, a US nonprofit whose mission is to serve Mexico’s poor through home-building, educational programs, and other community development activities. While Corazon’s home-building program is effective in providing basic shelter for residents of the communities in which they work, their designs rely on imported, non-renewable materials, do not consider heating and cooling needs, and do not address issues that affect quality of life, such as water, sanitation, security, and food production. This E-Team developed prototypes of sustainable housing systems that meet the needs of relief organizations like Corazon as well as local residents.

The team designed and tested prototypes that emphasize materials readily available in Tijuana, technology appropriate for the community’s cultural and economic conditions, and strategies that minimize the use of energy. Specifics include passive heating and cooling technology, affordable food production, security concerns, and clean waste and water systems. The goal of the team was to incorporate shelter, waste management, food production, and security into an integrated operation.

A Tray 4 All

University of Illinois at Chicago, 2005 - $12,000

Many varieties of lunch trays are available on the market: the standard tray featuring a flat surface and circumferential ledge, compartmentalized trays, and trays coated with non-slip surface material. However, there are no trays specifically designed to help people with partial arm function or motor control problems. This E-Team filled the gap by developing a specialized lunch tray for children with upper arm dysfunction. These children lack the strength and motor coordination to handle ordinary trays, and can’t function independently in the school cafeteria. The team developed two prototypes: one featuring a ring attached to the bottom right corner of the tray through which the user puts her good arm, freeing up the weaker arm to put items on the tray, and a butterfly-shaped tray. Both prototypes have cupholders that prevent drinks from sliding around.

Swimming Aid for the Blind and Visually-Impaired

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, 2005 - $5,150

This E-Team developed a swimming aid for the blind and visually impaired that alerts the swimmer when a wall is approaching. The device consists of a small wireless headset attached to the swimmer’s goggle strap. The headset receives signals from two units placed on opposing walls of the lane; when triggered, the headset relays an audible warning through a waterproof earpiece that a wall is approaching. The units also detect a change in the swimmer’s direction, allowing the headset to count laps.

There are no similar devices on the market, but the team has competition from electronic lap counters currently on the market, as well as the “tapper” – a person standing at the end of a swimming lane who uses a long cane to tap the blind swimmer on the shoulder when he/she is approaching the wall. This method is well-installed in the blind and visually impaired community, but the team believes the independence offered by their device gives them an advantage.

Strategic Technology Planning and Development Course Development

Johns Hopkins University

The Marquette University College of Engineering is developing Strategic Technology Planning and Development, a new course in the field of engineering entrepreneurship. The course focuses on developing technology that will be appropriate and available for product transfer at the moment it is needed. The course organizes students into E-Teams with the goal of producing a strategic development plan for a new technology-based business opportunity. The opportunity may be original to the team, or may derive from current college R&D programs. To stimulate commercialization of resulting opportunities, E-Teams are entered into the annual Golden Angels Network business plan contest.

Each four to six person E-Team consists of students, faculty members, and industry experts. Students learn through lectures, discussions, projects, and presentations. Once established, the course will fill a core role in the university’s Engineering Management Program

From Discovery to Commercialization: Developing the Greater Phoenix Innovation Pipeline

Loyola Marymount University

Sustainable development reconciles society’s developmental goals with the planet’s environmental limits over the long term. Although the sustainability industry is built upon the discoveries of researchers, the road from discovery to commercialization is not well known by most investigators, students, faculty members, and early-stage entrepreneurs. Additionally, many underserved student groups, such as the Hispanic and Native American populations and women, have had little exposure to sustainability science and innovation-focused careers. To address these issues, faculty from Arizona State University’s International Institute for Sustainability and the ASU Technopolis are implementing a sustainability-focused Technology and Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Course (TLSE), Sustainability Entrepreneurship, to bring together graduate and undergraduate students and faculty members, educational and entrepreneurial communities, and underserved populations and engage them in the innovation pipeline.

Course attendees—students, faculty members, and early-stage entrepreneurs from greater Phoenix—will learn basic start-up and management concepts and be exposed to strategic planning, technology roadmapping, business development, finance, intellectual property, marketing, law, product development, sales, and team building. Class members will form entrepreneurial teams to develop sustainability-focused business plans and financials, culminating with formal team presentations before a panel of industry experts, attorneys, and venture capitalists. ASU will also provide additional support for students to develop their sustainability-related projects following completion of the course

Entrepreneurial Field Studies

Northwestern University

This grant supports the University of Oklahoma’s Entrepreneurial Field Studies course, developed by faculty from the College of Business’s Entrepreneurship Center, which provides students with opportunities to apply concepts mastered in previous business courses while they work to develop intellectual property generated at the university. Student E-Teams work closely with the inventor of a product or service to bring previously shelved ideas to commercialization, with the ultimate goal of increasing wealth in the state of Oklahoma. Self-forming student teams choose intellectual property projects to undertake from several local institutions, including the office of Oklahoma Technology Development (OTD), the Noble Foundation, and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF). The IP selection criteria include its ability to address social issues through technologies that solve critical problems and meet basic human needs. The scope of the teams’ due diligence generally involves research into the feasibility of commercializing patented IP, market research surrounding a new IP, or the development of a business plan for new IP.

The class will has an enrollment of twenty-four students, divided into eight E-Teams. Each E-Team is composed of three graduate students and a mentor, integral to the team’s activities. The students learn entrepreneurial evaluation processes in the classroom, partially through guest speakers, then execute due diligence on their chosen product in the field, working with the inventor to determine the market applications of the invention and the opportunity and feasibility of the proposed application. At the end of the semester, student teams complete a business plan and present it to a group of panelists from venture capital and private equity firms in the culminating business plan competition. Students involved in the competition gain access to networks of successful entrepreneurs, lenders and investors, team-building opportunities, business planning skills, and media exposure. At the course’s conclusion, they may form a company or perform as marketing agents on behalf of the university’s Office of Technology Development, receiving twenty percent of gross royalties
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