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Student Change Makers Convert Ideas Into Inventions

Druv Boddupalli, a second-year medical student at Stanford, is a finalist in the NCIIA's national student biomedical engineering competition, BMEidea. Boddupalli spoke yesterday to his fellow finalists at a celebratory luncheon: "I'm an activist. I want to do good. I want to help the world's most poor and disenfranchised." He was discussing his team, OneBreath, and the low-cost ventilator they have designed for use in developing nations and large-scale disasters.

This is an attitude shared by Boddupalli’s fellow finalists. The desire to use technology to help people and to tackle difficult problems pervades BMEidea each year. Some teams, like OneBreath, focus their energies on the developing world. Others, like the Rapid Hypothermia Inducing Device team from Johns Hopkins, set their sights on health technologies that need to be improved closer to home. Still others, such as Cincinnati’s NOVEL team, turn their attention to hot-button issues like maternal health—relevant both here in the U.S. and abroad.

These three teams were selected from a pool of nearly fifty applicants to attend the annual Medical Design and Manufacturing (MD&M) East Conference in New York City. This morning we proudly recognized the top three biomedical innovators. They are, in order:

• Rapid Hypothermia Inducing Device, Johns Hopkins University (pictured above)—First Place and $10,000: Driven by the frighteningly low survival rates of patients in acute cardiac arrest who need to be transported to a hospital, this team was inspired to create a product that could be used to administer a therapeutic hypothermia treatment during transport that could help slow down the heart enough to reduce the risk of damage to the body’s other organs, especially the brain. According to the group, there is only a four to seven percent recovery rate outside of the hospital, in part due to a prolonged hospital wait time. Undeterred by the size of conventional hypothermia devices, the team is currently developing a product that is small enough to fit inside an ambulance, convenient and easy-to-use.

• OneBreath, Stanford University—Second Place and $2,500: Boddupalli and his teammates have developed a low-cost ventilator at a manufactured cost of $500 (retail price to be determined), significantly lower than traditional ventilators, which retail from $20,000 to $40,000. Team leader Matthew Callaghan recognized the need for such a product during the height of the Avian Flu epidemic. "The key issue is preventing breathing complications. If we can keep patients breathing, we can treat the flu with antivirals, and for that you need a lot of ventilators." While in the U.S. we may worry about flu pandemics, in the developing world the need for a low-cost ventilator is ever present. Epidemics notwithstanding, gaining access to life saving equipment is a constant challenge. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Preparedness and Response put out a multimillion-dollar solicitation in 2008 for a ventilator under $2,000 for domestic purposes yet to date no company has been awarded money.

• Natural Orifice Volume Enlargement (NOVEL) Device, the University of Cincinnati—Third Place and $1,000: Over six million women each year need surgery for a prolapsed uterus following delivery. While a relatively simple procedure in theory, access to the deep target tissues within the peritoneal cavity is often difficult, ultimately resulting in greater trauma during surgery and a consequentially longer recovery time. In creating a device that expands a natural orifice, rather than requiring any sort of surgical incision, this team not only developed the first advanced urogynecological tool since the Middle Ages, but also developed a product that reduces post-operative complications such as adhesions and incisional hernias.

These teams of young inventors represent a growing critical mass of student change makers, working on health and environmental issues in an academic setting. Now the cynic might say that once they graduate and are employed by the health and biomedical sector, they'll work for companies or hospitals that strictly employ a profit motive. But in today's economy when entry-level jobs are in short supply, more people like Druv Boddupalli are pursuing their passion for doing social good and finding ways to finance the development of their innovations. We’re pleased that the NCIIA could help these students convert their ideas into market-ready inventions.

Humera Fasihuddin oversees student venture coaching and mentoring for NCIIA. In addition, Fasihuddin manages BMEidea, a national student competition in biomedical engineering. She joined the NCIIA staff in 2005, where she was responsible for scaling the Invention to Venture workshop series to reach thousands of participants nationwide. Prior to joining NCIIA, she founded Edical May, a manufacturing and business development company enabling scale-up of new medical devices.

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