Student Designers Serious about Commercialization

Posted by Brian Buntz on August 10, 2011

The annual National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) BMEidea competition draws attention to biomedical devices created by teams of undergraduate and graduate students at colleges and universities across the country. The devices they showcase are undoubtedly innovative, but perhaps more importantly, they also have a real chance of someday making it to market.

The 2011 crop of winners was especially focused on that goal, says Humera Fasihuddin, NCIIA program manager for outreach.

“We actually noticed this year that all three winning teams are very serious about starting a venture around their inventions,” says Fasihuddin, who manages the BMEidea competition.

While teams in the past have often disbanded shortly after the competition, this year’s winners seem to be sticking together. More than two months after the winners were announced at the Medical Design Excellence Awards ceremony, the first-place team, from the University of Michigan, is still working on the project, seeking funding to further develop its design.

“We’re talking with a local incubator and applying for grants,” says team member Jay Johnson. The group earned $10,000 for its Magneto device, designed to detect internal bleeding following cardiac catheterization procedures. The portable, autonomous device uses magnetic induction to detect blood pooled at the puncture site. Current methods for detecting bleeding after the procedures have relied on close monitoring of the patient, requiring nurses to check every 15 minutes for symptoms. 

Michael Ackermann, part of a team from Stanford University, declined to provide details about the next steps for his group’s Oculeve device-based therapy for treating dry eye disease, which took second-place and a $2,500 prize. He did, however, acknowledge that his group is still working on the project.

“We are very excited to be working on such a compelling problem, and have been fortunate enough to win some competitions,” Ackermann says. “However, this is still in early stage development with a lot of scientific and clinical questions left to be answered.”

While many teams assemble as the result of class project, it was a shared entrepreneurial sprit that brought the third-place team, from Purdue University, together. Two of the members, Robert Einterz and Sean Connell, met in a class that pairs biomedical engineers with MBA students to solve clinical problems. They didn’t end up working on the same project but came together outside of class with their third teammate, Jianming Li, to develop Osmose, a line of antimicrobial wound dressings. In addition to taking home the third-place prize of $1,000 in the BMEidea compeition, they’ve also raised around $120,000 in funding.

“By our current projections, we’ll be finished with animal studies by the end of this year,” Einterz says. “Then, we will go to animal trials by the middle of 2012. From there, we go through the FDA process for the human clinical market. We anticipate that by the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014.”

Such forward thinking is exactly what the BMEidea competition was meant to foster when it was created seven years ago, after the NCIIA began working with college and university faculty to answer the biomedical industry’s call for more business-savvy engineering graduates, Fasihuddin says.

The purpose of the BMEidea competition is to "recognize innovative, commercially promising medical devices and technologies developed by entrepreneurial student teams," according to the NCIIA. Teams of undergraduate and graduate students—which must include one engineering student—work with faculty and industry mentors to create solutions to real clinical problems that meet regulatory, legal, cost, and other requirements. Their designs are judged on criteria such as technical feasibility, clinical utility, economic feasibility and market potential, novelty and patentability, potential for commercialization, and benefit to quality of life and care.

The next call for submissions will be this fall.

—Jamie Hartford

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