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Students in the Joint Biomedical Engineering Program at NC State and UNC demonstrate their inventions.
By Rose Hoban
Dozens of graduating college seniors mingled with about 200 doctors and biomedical industry representatives yesterday, as they got a chance to pitch their inventions to potential manufacturers.
The annual event showcases the results of a year-long product development process that pairs students from the Joint Biomedical Engineering Program at NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill with doctors and other medical practitioners to solve clinical problems.
Some of the students’ projects are already on the way to being patented.
“It’s an opportunity to display their hard work, and it’s also an educational opportunity,” said Andrew DiMeo, assistant professor of the practice of biomedical engineering at the two schools.
“The students have an opportunity to make five minute venture-like pitches,” DiMeo said. “It’s a real-world experience, and an opportunity to develop some good public speaking skills. To get up and speak in front of a full house of people at the NC Biotechnology Center is unmatched.”
Product development process
Students get paired up with a clinical mentor at one of the area’s hospitals in the fall semester. They start by interviewing the clinicians, and performing a needs assessment of what could make the clinicians’ work more effective.
“We had about 50 ideas at the start,” said Kristin Hale whose group, RadioActivists, worked with a radiologist from WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh. “Our final product alone had about three iterations.”
Hale’s group designed a small mechanism that can be placed in an pump to deliver intravenous solution. A wheel-like device continuously agitates radioactive particles – with a diameter about the size of a human hair – that are suspended in the IV solution.
“The novelty is that the solution gets mixed during delivery,” said Kyle Cutler, Hale’s teammate. He explained usually the solution is given to liver cancer patients as part of radiation treatment.
“It’s a slow infusion and takes about 30 minutes to complete the procedure,” Cutler said. “But the particles settle to the bottom of the syringe within about five minutes. So this delivers the particles more evenly.”
Cutler and Hale’s team measured how well the invention delivered the particles using an industrial tool that counts minute particles as they pass through liquid. Their measurements showed a steady supply of particles throughout the 30 minute infusion period.
The team submitted their device to NC State’s Office of Technology Transfer last week. The department helps students and faculty at the university file patents and can help shepherd their inventions through the FDA device quality approval process.
Nineteen teams participated in the showcase. Their projects ranged from altering a transparent plastic wound dressing already on the market to make it more useful for starting an IV, to designing a device that helps surgeons implant electrodes into the spines of patients with chronic pain.
DiMeo said many of the students coming out of the program step right into good jobs in the biomedical industry.
“Companies that have hired our graduates in the past call us and ask when the next group is coming. They come back and hire more,” DiMeo said. “Companies love these kids.”