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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.