Students’ low-cost medical device wins inaugural Discovery Competition

A low-cost medical device targeted at improving world health has taken the top prize in Washington University in St. Louis School of Engineering & Applied Science’s inaugural Discovery Competition.

Sparo Labs took the largest prize of $25,000. The company’s plan stems from an award-winning project to develop a low-cost, pocket-sized spirometer, which measures lung function.

The team plans to further develop the product to prepare it for clinical trials. The end goal is to make the device available for individuals in the United States and other developed countries to better monitor lung disorders and for health-care providers in developing countries to better diagnose lung disorders such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders and cystic fibrosis.

Team members are Andrew Brimer, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering; Abigail Cohen, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering; Philip Thomas, a senior majoring in systems science and engineering and physics; Jon Koo, a senior majoring in environmental studies in Arts & Sciences and business; and Chris Cassidy, a senior majoring in finance and entrepreneurship.

“We are very proud of all of the students who participated in this competition,” said Ralph Quatrano, PhD, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science. “Each of the finalist teams showed exceptional maturity, insight and ambition in their proposals. We are very excited to see how their ideas progress. And next year, we will definitely continue this entrepreneurial activity, which has been generously supported by our engineering alumni. ”

“The students responded to this challenge with some very creative ideas,” said Dennis Mell, director of the Discovery Competition and professor of practice. “I can only hope that some of our future Discovery Competition teams can meet the high bar of achievement set by these teams.”

In the final team presentations April 17, each team was judged on how its members described the product or technology and identified customers, estimation of the market size and team dynamics.

Team BMC Protein, which is developing a new technology that uses the bacterial microcompartment as a platform for in-vivo protein expression, received a $10,000 prize. The team’s goal is to create a standardized and efficient way to produce recombinant proteins that will save scientists time. They plan to create a kit containing a carboxysome-producing strain of E. coli bacteria, along with a genetic tool that will assist scientists in producing proteins.

The team’s members are Andrew Ng, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering; Benjamin Todd, a junior majoring in business; Brian Basco, a junior majoring in biology in Arts & Sciences; Caleb Ford, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering; and Lucas Harrington, a senior majoring in chemistry in Arts & Sciences.

The Biliboyz/LumaCure team received a $5,000 prize for its proposal for a low-cost alternative to treating jaundice in newborns by creating a “biliblanket,” a small, glowing mat placed directly next to the infant’s skin, requiring much less power and cost than those currently used.

The team built a prototype that uses electroluminescent materials to transmit light, eliminating the need for expensive fiber optics, and to supply a low-cost, reliable and safe treatment for jaundice in newborns, particularly in the developing world.

The team’s members are Charles Wu, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering; John Prewitt, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering and biology; Huy Lam, a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering; Matthew Speizman, a freshman biomedical engineering major; Yoga Shentu, a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering; and Fangzhou Xiao, a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering and mathematics in Arts & Sciences.

Team L3DC received $2,500 for its development of a self-assessment tool to measure symptoms of a tremor in patients with Parkinson’s disease. The software uses a small USB device from LeapMotion Inc. to create a quantitative method for 3-D measurements of a Parkinsonian tremor. This analysis will provide an easy measurement of the tremor that is useful for physicians to assess patients.

The product is expected to allow doctors to more easily track the progression of the disease over time as well as the patient’s response to drug treatments.

The team’s members are Matthew Johnson, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering and electrical engineering; Vinoo Ganesh, a senior majoring in computer science; Ethan Green, a senior majoring in computer science and entrepreneurship; and Andrew Cowley, a senior majoring in electrical engineering.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science launched the Discovery Competition in September to promote new and innovative discoveries to solve challenges or needs.

The competition provides engineering undergraduate students the forum to explore their entrepreneurial interests with support from mentors, to use their creativity to develop solutions for real-world problems and to compete for financial resources that could help turn their ideas into businesses. The competition will be an annual event.

Teams were composed only of currently enrolled WUSTL undergraduate students, with at least one engineering student and at least one non-engineering student on each team. Students from all four undergraduate schools were represented on these teams and are encouraged to take part next year.

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