New EIH Summer Incubator
New grant funds Engineering Innovation in Health
projects for an additional 10 weeks.
Engineering Innovation in Health (EIH) is a three-quarter academic program offered to undergraduate and graduate engineering students that is coordinated by a team of mechanical engineering faculty, health care professionals as well as regulatory and business experts. The EIH program partners student teams with health care professionals to develop technical solutions to pressing health challenges. Each interprofessional/interdisciplinary team develops a deep understanding of the background of the unmet need, the existing approaches and technologies that address the challenge, the regulatory pathway, preliminary market opportunity, existing intellectual property, as well as several solution designs, functioning prototypes, and preliminary evaluation data.
Each year, the EIH program receives upwards of 40 health challenge applications from clinicians across the local Seattle and Pacific Northwest regional healthcare network. The program selects 12-14 challenges to begin each autumn quarter. At the end of autumn quarter, about half of the projects are selected to continue development through the end of spring quarter.
A grant from the Herbert B. Jones Foundation (http://www.hbjfoundation.com/) supported the first-ever EIH Summer Incubator. The grant principle investigator, Soyoung Kang, PhD, created a 10-week program to continue supporting and mentoring teams as they developed their projects beyond the academic year. Each team received $5000 for prototyping and development, as well as consulting in topic areas such as product development (Marco Micheletti, Pike Product Services) and printed circuit board and embedded systems design (Martin Poenot, Facebook Reality Labs). The four teams selected to continue in the Summer Incubator included CathAlign, InstaQTc, EpiSense, and DopCuff. DopCuff was accepted into the UW Jones + Foster Accelerator Program, leaving the Incubator early in the summer.
Here is a brief look at each of the three remaining projects and what the teams have been working on this summer:
Jon Neher, MD, a Family Medicine physician at Valley Medical, is InstaQTc’s lead clinical partner. In the fall of 2018, Dr. Neher, shared the challenges with regular monitoring of the QTc interval, which is a marker for the potential for ventricular arrhythmia and risk of sudden death. The QTc interval represents electrical depolarization and repolarization of the ventricles and is measured with full electrocardiogram (ECG) measurements, which is time-consuming and costly. As a result, the QTc interval is not monitored as closely as recommended.
In response to this challenge, engineering students developed InstaQTc, a simple, handheld screening device that measures the QTc interval without the need for a 12-lead ECG. “Half of all medications people take affect the QTc interval,” said Trinh Vo, a senior undergraduate mechanical engineering student working on the InstaQTc project. “A prolonged QTc interval increases the risk of ventricular arrhythmia and cardiac arrest.” InstaQTc provides the QTc interval using only three electrodes – one placed on the left hip, and two are positioned ergonomically in the hand-held device for the patient to place both thumbs. Last spring, a working prototype was tested on a volunteer at the UW Medicine Northgate Clinic where the measurements from the 12-lead ECG were compared to those calculated from the InstaQTc, with 99% accuracy. Over the summer, the team worked on improving the software and hardware, applied for additional funding, obtained approval from the IRB for human studies, and have been accepted to present at the ASME conference in November 2019.
The InstaQTc team is developing this simple, rapid screening device to enable clinicians to efficiently monitor patients at risk for prolonged QTc interval.
Corrie Anderson, MD, an anesthesiologist with Seattle Children’s Hospital, approached EIH with challenges of improving the training of accurately and safety of placing epidurals. In response to this challenge, the students developed EpiSense, a simulation device and guide intended for training anesthesiologists to place an epidural correctly. The team carefully researched existing approaches to training and the need for a new training method before developing a prototype.
“Epidurals have a high failure rate,” said Darren Li, one of the Master of Mechanical Engineering students working on the project. “That means there is a failure to place it correctly on a given try, not necessarily a poor outcome. We want to decrease the time it takes to get the needle into the right space.”
Anesthesiologists sometimes train using a cantaloupe or an apple to simulate a human torso. High fidelity simulators are expensive, costing thousands of dollars, and frequently suffer from overuse. The self-healing materials they are made from eventually develop permanent pathways as needles repeatedly pierce the same location and travel the same path. Li said it is also common for newer physicians to practice on women in childbirth. Episense could provide an inexpensive—Li said possibly under $100—intermediate simulator to use in tandem with high fidelity simulators.
Li is the only member of the original four member student team to continue working on the project. The other three team members graduated in June 2019. Li was joined by Yuri Hudak, another Master of Mechanical Engineering student, who worked on a different EIH project that did not continue over the summer. This summer, Li and Hudak have scaled up the device so they can now source more readily available components. They have just completed their latest prototype. Part of its appeal is that it is a portable, table-top device that now represents a half-scale adult human torso.
Garnering support from the clinical community is an important next step for the team. “Feedback was critical,” Li said of the development process. “It’s iterative. Our eventual goal is to hand it off and give people the resources they need to work with this tool.”
Greta Anaman, CCRN, a critical care nurse specialist at UW Medical Center, approached EIH with pain points associated with treatment decisions in critical care being heavily reliant on nurses aligning a transducer to the patient heart. Nurses perform this manual process of moving the transducer up and down along the IV stand axis to align with the position of the patient heart 2-3 times per hour based on patient activity or questionable readings. To address these pain points, engineering students developed CathAlign, an automatic pressure transducer leveling device that combines a novel sensing solution with enhanced transducer attachment safety features to improve nursing workflow and reduce avoidable hospital errors in advanced heart failure critical care monitoring.
“After expanding our needs-finding search by interviewing clinicians from other hospital departments outside of the ICU, we discovered a clear need for enhanced safety features that would enable our device to be favorably adopted in other general hospital procedures,” said lead engineer and project manager Cody Cooper, a graduate Mechanical Engineering student. “[We] worked with a team of UWMC Anesthesiologists this summer to iteratively prototype a solution that could be integrated into our device.”
CathAlign is submitting a provisional patent application and identifying new customers for their solution. Cooper and his partners, Stephen Phillips (BS, Mechanical Engineering), and Shikhar Varshney (Master of Mechanical Engineering student) have launched a company website at https://cathalign.com/. They seek to actively network with experienced professionals from various business and biomedical backgrounds to learn how to improve their product and succeed as a student-led startup.
“Future technical tasks we will prioritize include assembling, testing, and optimizing our designed PCB for integrating into our device, designing a suitable adhesive housing that is safe to place on patients, investigating plastics manufacturing methods and validating efficacy of our device via lab testing,” said Cooper. “In order to ensure that our project’s traction continues as core members balance other academic/professional workloads as we transition from the summer, we seek to expand the team by hiring individuals to assist with future technical and business development tasks.”
The Herbert B. Jones Foundation Grant has enabled EpiSense, CathAlign, and InstaQTc teams to be accepted to present at the ASME IMECE conference in Salt Lake City in November 2019, apply for additional funding from the CoMotion Innovation Gap Fund and VentureWell E-team grant, and submit provisional patents or IRB applications for human studies. All this work from the summer incubator points to continued success of the EIH program and their goal of improving patient care.
If you have an unmet health challenge that you think would be a good fit for the EIH Program, please apply at any time at https://eih.uw.edu/clinicians. Questions and completed proposals can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the EIH Program, visit https://eih.uw.edu/.
Photo credits: Engineering Innovation in Health.