Senior Design Projects Lead to Biotech Startups

Sometimes senior design projects can go far beyond graduation. Two teams of brand-new graduates from the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) have won awards in a national competition to design innovative healthcare solutions. cerVIA and CatheCare shared third place honors, each receiving $10,000, in the Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams (DEBUT) Challenge, which is sponsored in a public-private partnership by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) and VentureWell.

Both projects grew out of the capstone senior design course led by Aaron Kyle, senior lecturer in biomedical engineering design. In BME Senior Design, students are responsible for all phases of device innovation, from needs identification to advanced prototyping and the formation of business plans to demonstrate that they have a viable project. Kyle notes that “both cerVIA and CatheCare enthusiastically embraced the design process, applying their skills to the creation of highly impactful devices.”

cerVIA demonstration video.

cerVIA, developed by Jahrane Dale, Olachi Oleru, Ritish Patnaik, and Stephanie Yang, is a handheld cervical cancer detection device that can be used with a smartphone. It works by integrating a speculum-fitted custom camera system with cancer detection algorithms. The cerVIA system seamlessly integrates into the VIA workflow and fits within standard speculums. The custom camera system contains a LED ring and diffusion filters to standardize input images for precancerous lesion detection, consistently capturing images with similar brightness, hue, and saturation values. The algorithm then outputs heatmaps to highlight problem areas that clinicians can use to make more informed diagnoses.

In April, the cerVIA team took home second place and $15,000 in the Columbia Undergraduate Challenge at the Columbia Venture Competition. They also won honors in the VentureWell E-Team Stage 1 Grant and the 2016 Rice Global Health Technologies Competition.

CatheCare demonstration video.

CatheCare, created by Aonnicha Burapachaisri, Charles Pan, Aishwarya Raja, and Chanond Sophonpanich, is a safe, easy-to-use device that eradicates 99.9 percent of bacteria that builds up in a central venous catheter (CVC). Used for many functions including delivering drugs or fluids and drawing blood, CVCs are relatively long-term and remain in place for three months or longer, making them highly susceptible to bacterial colonization that eventually leads to biofilm formation. The CatheCare device could decrease significantly the number of life-threatening infections in critically ill patients. It is an easy-to-use, non-obstructive, safe, and effective device that uses germicidal ultraviolet-C light to eradicate bacteria. It also helps prevent biofilm formation on the catheter and reduces the mortality rate and costs associated with catheter-related bloodstream infections. CatheCare was also awarded the 2016 Top Design Award by the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

“I am enormously proud of our two Columbia Engineering teams,” Kyle says. “They were competing against 72 entries from 30 universities in 17 states and the fact that they did so well is really notable. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next.”

Both groups are working on forming startups. The cerVIA group has expanded its team and founded Luso Labs to tackle product development and business growth needs. They are planning to conduct field studies in India later this year to build partnerships and initiate clinical studies, and they are competing in the 2016 Create the Future contest. Vote here (until September 9): http://contest.techbriefs.com/2016/entries/medical/7288!

CatheCare, which has filed for an LLC, is refining its prototype, has achieved initial proof-of-concept testing, and filed a provisional patent. The group plans to file a patent in the next few months and is in discussions with several hospitals in Thailand to set up clinical trials.

by Holly Evarts

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