Freshman & Sophomores Get Practical Design & Project Experience in Biomedical Engineering

In this video interview Georgia Tech rising senior Jim Schwoebel describes his experience entering college knowing his destiny was to invent, innovate and be an entrepreneur. But, when he got to Georgia Tech, he found that most of the innovation resources were geared to juniors, seniors and grad students.

Freshman and sophomores weren’t getting the practical medical design, problem solving, project or clinical industry exposure that attracted them to the biomedical engineering track in the first place. So, he did what any good entrepreneur does… he developed what he believed the student market needed… the Medical Device Entrepreneurship Association, an undergraduate club that solved the problem by forming project teams and exposing underclassmen to industry experts and advisors. Learn more by watching the video interview or read the Q&A below.


Jim Schwoebel started the MDEA, a club exposing freshman and sophomores at Georgia Tech to design, invention and innovation opportunities.

Q: What were your experiences a young innovator at Georgia Tech and why did you start the student biomedical entrepreneurship club, MDEA?

I entered college knowing I wanted to invent and innovate. I would download Stanford’s popular podcasts, the ‘Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders’ series in high school. I had an interest specifically in the talks pertaining to medical device entrepreneurship. So when I started my education at Georgia Tech, I looked to participate in medical entrepreneurship in some way. But when I began this search, I noted these problems:

  • There were many top-down initiatives pertaining to biotechnology commercialization tailored to graduate students and faculty emerging on Georgia Tech’s campus, but few of these initiatives was tailored to undergraduate students (e.g. TRIBES, the BioID program).
  • There were also many undergraduate entrepreneurship organizations emerging across Georgia Tech (Enterprise 2 Empower – Social Enterprise, Startup Exchange – space for entrepreneurs), few which provided a niche for creating medical device companies.
  • Also, I did not feel like my educational experience was training me well to have the knowledge that I needed to start a medical device company. There are regulatory complexities, clinical affairs considerations, reimbursement considerations, etc. involved in starting a medical device company, and I did not know where I could go to find this information and feel comfortable with it.

The connecting thread of these problems was that there was an ill-defined medical device ecosystem tailored to undergraduate students at my school, and I felt that by starting this organization this ecosystem would begin to take shape. And after a few months, the networks and resources we built up could be utilized by students to get mentorship and advice in starting companies.

Q: Who participated and what types of things do students do?

Because I am a biomedical engineering student, the main people who participated in our activities were biomedical engineering undergraduate students, but we have tried to reach into all schools and departments to create an interdisciplinary community for medical innovation. So far, we have held two major types of events. The first is a networking session where medical device entrepreneurs and designers come out and speak to students. Called the Roads to Medical Innovation Entrepreneurship Forum, this event is a roundtable discussion where students rotate tables and talk with successful entrepreneurs who have succeeded in starting medical device companies. In this way, this event could stimulate interest and confidence within students to start medical device companies and develop networks useful in the company development process.

Georgia Tech also has a large machine shop – the Invention Studio – with many tools to build and create medical devices, which is maintained by students. Our organization has held events at the machine shop to help students build their devices. We have also partnered with GCMI – the global center for medical innovation – which specializes in prototyping early-stage medical technology for start-up companies. These experiences for students have definitely helped them with their design and prototyping experience related to medical device entrepreneurship.

Beyond general membership events, the executive board is divided up into a networking committee and events committee. The networking committee has 5 networking chairs – student, research, nonprofit, industry, and clinical networking chairs. The goal of the networking committee is to attend conferences and events within the Atlanta community that can help MDEA into the future (recruiting guest speakers, getting introduced to legal networks, etc.). The events committee then makes use of the networks maintained by the networking committee to host events to general members. Therefore, students on the executive board get to attend many interesting events that aid in professional development (I attended 5-6 conferences last year). We designed it this way so that the organization can be applied and adapted to any arbitrary community, so that students of other schools may be able to mimic the model to centralize networks and resources within their communities through our model. With this strategy, we believe we have seeded an ecosystem that can continue to grow and add additional events such as educational seminars and business strategy workshops.

Q: What types of things should a Student think about if they were wanted to start a club like this?

I would suggest the following:

  • Choose a good faculty advisor (someone who has started a company) – when I mention Dr. Ken Gall’s name, so many people know him in the medical entrepreneurship community that it helps us with initial branding/marketing to other faculty and entrepreneurs
  • Establish organizational partnerships – Georgia Tech has a President’s Council for all biomedical engineering-related organizations which has helped us to
  • Make a good website – good for marketing purposes and extend reach into industry (that’s how Drexel University contacted me to start a chapter)
  • Partner with existing faculty initiatives (GCMI, GTRI, etc.) – allows you to possibly find funding more easily and helps you to access useful networks

Beyond these things, I would download the expansion package resources that we have created from our organization in the first year of development. We have set-up a webpage where students from other schools can start a new MDEA chapter. This page allows you to watch a video and download resources regarding our organizational model. These resources include advertising materials, business cards, a constitution, funding leads, links to our website, logos, an organizational proposal, PowerPoints, recruitment emails, a 1 year strategic plan, and website resources. In this way, we hope to empower students from other schools to benefit from the work that we have done, as well as expand our model into a cross-university, open source community.

On behalf of students looking for meaningful opportunities for innovation in the University environment, I’d like to thank Jim for spearheading this effort, serving as a student changemaker at Georgia Tech, and taking the time to tell us about it. Jim and his team are very interested in ‘open sourcing’ all the information about how to set up a club like MDEA on your campus. I encourage students at other BME campuses to look at the information Jim makes available (mentioned above), right here. Maybe YOU can lead the way, like Jim did, on your campus.

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

The Cat’s Out of the Bag

by Humera Fasihuddin

Update 7pm 6/19: And the standings have been announced! See below for each team’s placement and prize.

 1st place students get $10,000 in prize money and their Departments get to house the coveted trophy, sometimes referred to as the 'Stanley Cup of Biomedical Engineering'.

1st place students get $10,000 in prize money and their Departments get to house the coveted trophy, sometimes referred to as the ‘Stanley Cup of Biomedical Engineering’.

Today, I have the great honor of awarding a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winner for the ninth year of the BMEidea Awards.

The top three represent the finest in student innovations addressing real clinical challenges in the health sector with creatively-designed biomedical solutions. Read on to find out who ranked 1st, 2nd or 3rd, just announced this afternoon at the prestigious industry trade show and conference, Medical Device and Manufacturing East (MD&M East), at the Medical Design Excellence Awards (MDEA) Ceremony.

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

EchoSure, 1st Place, $10,000 Price


The team members:
Devin Coon, 30, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Adam Lightman, 26, from Memphis, Tennessee
David Narrow, 22, from Baltimore, Maryland

Johns Hopkins University

The device:
A simple system that, for the first time, enables nurses to perform routine monitoring of patients’ vascular health at the bedside. Find out more…

AWAIR, 2nd Place, $5,000 Prize

The team members:
Rush Bartlett II, PhD, MBA, age 26, from Tulsa, Oklahoma and Austin, Texas
Ryan Van Wert, MD, age 33, from Toronto, Canada

Stanford University

The device:
AWAIR created the Wyshbone drug delivery catheter, which continuously applies topical anesthetic to the throat to reduce endotracheal tube discomfort. Find out more…

Gala Pump by DS Labs, 3rd Place, $2,500

The team members:
Susan Thompson, age 28, from Baltimore, Maryland
Adriana Blazeski, age 26, from Ann Arbor, Michigan

Johns Hopkins University

The device:
A hands-free, concealable, and quiet breast pump that women can use discreetly in the presence of others. Find out more…

Biomedical Innovation at the University of Southern California

Here at USC, technology innovation and inter-departmental collaboration is a big priority.  Recently, the Coulter foundation granted $5M to USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, Keck School of Medicine, and Stevens Institute for Innovation as part of their Coulter Translational Research Partnership Program.  As far as I can tell, a large chunk of this money is going to go towards developing devices aimed at problems in pediatric medicine.  Of worthy note is the fetal pacemaker being developed by USC’s Medical Device Development Facility, which has potential to assuage symptoms related to several structural defects while still in utero.

Perhaps influenced by these recent developments, there is a palpable call to action in the air around Viterbi and Keck.  I recently met with a group of bright, young undergraduate BME’s working on a much improved chest drain device, of which they plan on submitting to the BMEStart competition and E-team grants.  Students within Viterbi and Keck’s nascent Health, Technology, and Engineering program are working hard to seek out real-world problems and design solutions with the market in mind.  The NCIIA is sure to see a lot of action from that group over the next few years.

There is a lot of new collaboration happening between Viterbi and Keck, and many of these new relationships will result in impactful technology.  The NCIIA can count on many of these new technologies appearing in their competitions.

Innovation in Southern Cal: MD Students + Engineering PhD’s

Here at USC, innovation is certainly a high priority.  USC’s breakthrough HTE (Health, Technology, and Engineering) program combines Keck School of Medicine (USC’s medical school) with Viterbi School of Engineering PhD students for a four year program that will churn out biomedical device innovators by the dozens.  As non-intuitive as it sounds, it’s quite rare for medical schools to interact with engineering departments, but the administrators of HTE persevered to make it happen, with strong backing from presidents of both schools.  The NCIIA’s E-team grant readers are sure to be flooded with applications from this group!

Just in time for winter break, USC students have been presented with lots of food for thought.  Students heard from Josh Makower, biomedical entrepreneur responsible for Stanford’s BioDesign program, Exploramed biomedical device incubator, as well as numerous companies started within Exploramed.   The week prior, students and faculty were presented with a symposium focused on facilitating translating advanced biomedical technology research into commercial applications.

Harvard, New Ideas for Elderly Problems

On Monday November 28th, the Harvard Healthcare Innovation Group, a NCIIA supported organization, held its first event at the Harvard Innovation Laboratory.  The group, currently in the form of a 160 person mailing list, materialized its support into an event with the purpose to promote the creation of a medical venture community.  This first event’s main goal was to get members to meet each other, generating a network of students from across the harvard schools.  To facilitate this a design challenge was created to stimulate collaboration among the members, however what began as an ice breaker quickly became a extremely productive brainstorm session.  The sixty plus students that participated in the design challenge, which was to reduce the incidence of hip fractures from falls in geriatric patients, produced some fantastic ideas.  First our guest speaker Dr. Medha Munshi introduced the challenge and gave a short speech outlining the important aspects to the problem from a geriatricians point of view.  Then groups of students at each table, which were diverse with individuals from each of the respective schools, wrote ideas for devices and marketing opportunities on whiteboards.  Some of the more unique ideas were engineered furniture lines to reduce falls, robotic walkers that follow the patients, detachable hospital IV lines to reduce tangling, and shoe sonar sensors to detect objects.  Overall the event was a fantastic success, having produced some fantastic ideas and discussions, and the HHIG looks forward to putting on another, larger event in the future.

Innovation at UCLA: Mobile Lab on a Chip

Using standard CCD photo camera light sensors, without utilizing any lens optics, scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles are able to distinguish between normal and infected cells in blood samples. The technique, developed, and now improved, by Dr. Aydogan Ozcan and colleagues from the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, is called Lensless Ultra-wide-field Cell monitoring Array platform based on Shadow (LUCAS) imaging. lm x220 Counting Infected Blood Cells with Your Cell Phone

The software can count the number of blood cells in a sample as well as determining the cell type by comparing the observed images to a library of cell images. LUCAS has advantages over simple microscope-based analysis because it can image a large field of blood cells, allowing for cell-counting and wide-field sample analysis. But, a microscope is still required for a detailed look at the individual cells.

The great promise of Dr. Ozcan’s work has earned him several prestigious honors for young scientists, most recently the 2009 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. Given to young faculty by the National Institutes of Health, the award includes funding of $1.5 million over five years to support highly innovative research projects.


University of Tennessee Health Science Center – Vaccine on Path for Commercialization

An international collaboration between Vaxent, a Memphis-based early stage vaccine development company in the Memphis Bioworks Foundation Incubator, and The Pan-Provincial Vaccine Enterprise Inc. (PREVENT), a Centre of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) in Saskatchewan, has put a vaccine for group A streptococcus (Strep-A) back on the path for potential commercialization.  Under the terms of the agreement, PREVENT receives the exclusive worldwide license to progress vaccine candidates through developing vaccine formulations, manufacturing, completing preclinical studies and conducting clinical trials.  Both parties will participate in the commercialization process under a cost-sharing and revenue-sharing arrangement.

Group A streptococcus is a significant cause of pharyngitis or “strep throat” in children, as well as other more serious diseases such as streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, necrotizing fasciitis (so-called “flesh-eating disease”) and acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease. There are 11 million physician office visits for sore throat or suspected strep throat in the U.S. each year, with 15 to 30 percent of those cases confirmed positive for group A streptococcus.   The total cost (direct health care and indirect productivity loss) of these infections is estimated to be $2 billion annually in the U.S., alone.

The Strep-A vaccine was developed over 25 years of laboratory research by James B. Dale, MD, Gene H. Stollerman Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Dale is the Chief Scientific Officer for Vaxent.  Since April, 2008 Vaxent has been a part of the Memphis Bioworks Incubator.

“The 30-valent vaccine for Strep-A is the most complex genetically engineered vaccine ever developed for clinical trials,” said Dale.  “It will cover between 90 and 95 percent of Strep-A found in North America and could have a significant impact on the incidence of strep throat and more serious, invasive infections. In addition, an effective Strep-A vaccine could lead to a significant decrease in the need for antibiotic administration in children, thus reducing the risk of antibiotic resistance of other bacteria.”

Other childhood vaccines, such as Prevnar designed to prevent the most common and serious pneumococcal infections, has had a profound impact on the health of children worldwide.  Prevnar is recommended for all children under the age of two. Wordwide sales are predicted to reach $5-6 billion by 2014.

“Vaxent is an excellent example of local science and technology moving from the research laboratory to local entrepreneurial incubation and now on to the next step toward the marketplace,” said Dr. Steve Bares, president and executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation.  “Our ability as a community to successfully nurture our local science will have long term benefits for our community, and in this case for world health.”

Over a three year period, it is expected that the agreement will progress through manufacture of the vaccine, to pre-clinical testing, to a phase 1 clinical trial in adult volunteers.  Only after success at this stage will an age step-down study be launched to test the vaccine in adolescents and children.

Strep-A diseases are more common in children than adults.  Illness ranges from uncomplicated pharyngitis to invasive toxic shock syndrome, necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating disease), cellulitis, sepsis (blood infection), pneumonia, and subsequent complications such as rheumatic fever and kidney disease.  There are 616 million cases of pharyngitis caused by Strep-A worldwide each year. Rheumatic heart disease affects millions of children and adults in the world and may cause over 1 million deaths per year. At least 18.1 million cases of invasive infections occur each year in children and adults. There are at least 517,000 deaths globally each year due to severe Strep-A infections; necrotizing fasciitis kills about 30 percent of patients and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome has a mortality rate of 30 to 70 percent.

Strep-A vaccine development was recently discussed at the Global Vaccine Research Forum of the World Health Organization.  Additionally, in 2009 Vaxent was recognized by the World Vaccine Congress as a finalist for the Best Prophylactic Vaccine of the year award.  The finalists are selected based on nominations by peer companies and careful review by the World Vaccine Congress selection committee.

~Dee Helton, Student Ambassador at UT Health Science Center


Wake Forest University Surgeon Prints Human Kidney

An unmet need exists in the insufficiency of available organs transplants. In response, an entrepreneurial, medical mastermind is revolutionizing the face of transplant science.  Dr. Anthony Atala and his research team at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine focus on the growth and regeneration of over 30 tissues and organs. They engineered the first lab-grown organ to be implanted into a human and are currently developing novel technology to “print” human tissue on a modified desktop inkjet printer. Watch the following TED talk and get inspired!

Dr. Anthony Atala is the Scientific Co-Founder, Chairman, and Member of Scientific Advisory Board of Tengion (TNGN:NASDAQ GM). This venture performs R&D and subsequent commercialization of neo-organs and tissues to address unmet medical needs in urologic, renal, gastrointestinal and vascular diseases.

“Anthony Atala bakes things that will make you feel good inside, but we’re not talking cakes and muffins.” (PBS)

– Lucy Lan, Student Ambassador at Wake Forest University

University of Tennessee Health Science Center- Making Memphis a Hotbed for Entrepreneurial Success

When you think about entrepreneurship, technology, start-up companies, and venture capital, there are several areas in the United States that come to mind: West coast cities such as San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego; east coast cities such as Boston, New York, Washington DC. Rarely, and certainly only within the past few years, would a city such as Memphis, Tennessee, ever be considered.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal published its interactive map showcasing the areas that have gained venture capital within the first six months of 2011. I was excited and pleased to see that Memphis had a dot on the map. While this might not seem like a big deal, since moving to Memphis, I have seen and learned that many people and organizations have poured their time and resources into making Memphis a viable community for start-up companies.

While procuring funds is an important part of a region’s entrepreneurial success, it is only a small part of the whole. To build a practical network for new company expansion, Memphis will need inspiration from universities, cooperation from companies, and successful mentors that are willing to dedicate their time and knowledge.

Everyone in the community, from student researchers to venture capitalists, has applied themselves diligently to create a space for new companies to grow and succeed. I believe it is imperative to the future of our local economy to pool our resources and continue the hard work. Being placed on The Wall Street Journal Map is an achievement in which Memphis should be proud.

~Dee Helton, Student Ambassador at UT Health Science Center


Upcoming Events for Memphis:

Business Model Bootcamp- September 24, 2011; 8:30am – 3:30pm

More information:

Tech Cocktails- September 28, 2011; 5:30pm-8pm

Location: Bhan Thai

Memphis Research and Innovation Expo- October 6, 2011; 9am – 4pm

More information:

Columbia University – Biomedical engineering faculty contribute to global health

Based on developments in lab-on-a-chip technology, a cost-efficient handheld device is now capable of performing complex medical tests for illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, or even cancer within minutes. Researchers at Columbia University have been able to provide the global health community with essentially a miniaturized science lab that simplifies and speeds up the analysis of diagnostic tests.

The device is called mChip and it was developed by Columbia professor Samual Sia within the biomedical engineering department at Columbia University. Using only a drop of blood, the chip is able to provide results as reliable as those obtained at research labs. The entire process takes approximately 15 minutes and the individual chips cost $2 to $3. Health care workers in developing nations will be able to use the portable system to test patients in remote villages.

The device has already been successfully field tested in Rwanda as part of a partnership with the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health’s International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs and the first mChip product has already been approved in Europe for the detection of prostate cancer. The research is described in more detail in Nature Medicine and on the Columbia Engineering website. Currently, there is increased interest in obtaining additional resources for the project in order to potentially commercialize the product and to market it to the global health community.

Dmitriy Timerman