Biomed teams from Rice, UCLA, and Dartmouth win first NIH undergrad competition

Three teams were announced as winners in the recent Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams (DEBUT) challenge, a biomedical engineering design competition for teams of undergraduate students. The three categories addressed the critical needs in biomedical technology, focusing on devices for diagnostics, therapeutics, and technology that can aid underserved populations and individuals with disabilities. The challenge was managed by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), which is a part of the National Institutes of Health.

Personalized Monitoring of Enzyme Dynamics (P-MED) was the winning project in the category of diagnostic devices, and focused on personalizing cancer treatments. P-MED, designed by Jaideep Dudani, Derek Go, Ankit Gupta, Gayane Kocharyan, Roxanne Loo, and Nova Wang from the University of California Los Angeles, gives doctors test results that show how individual patients will respond to treatment before initiating chemotherapy. P-MED automatically measures enzymatic activity in an individual’s response to prodrugs that become active through the metabolic process.

“This device could potentially help doctors determine the type of drug and dosages for a specific patient without the need to wait and see how the patient responds to treatment, saving valuable time and sparing the patient from the side effects of a drug that may prove ineffective in the end,” said NIBIB’s Zeynep Erim.

In the category of therapeutic devices, the winner was the Microflora Refinement System that helps treat Clostridium difficile (C. diff) which is an infectious intestinal bacterium and the number one cause of hospital-acquired diarrhea. The infection is extremely resistant to drug treatment as antibiotics usually don’t work. The Microflora Refinement System designed by Alison Stace-Naughton, Pauline Schmit, Laura Taylor Gray, and Jen Freise from Dartmouth College, automatically separates the beneficial microbiota from the fecal matter and could potentially make transplantation more widely available.

“We are more focused on device development and seeing where this can take us,” said Stace-Naughton. “The wind is to our back and we would like to use that momentum to help carry this device forward. We aren’t sure where we will go with it yet, but the competition offers valuable resources and business development help that we plan on utilizing.”

The IV DRIP topped the category of technology with its system of weights to limit the maximum amount of fluid given to the patient. That battles the risk of over-hydration which an issue due to clinics worldwide being understaffed and unable to monitor every patient as much as necessary. It was designed by a team from Rice University consisting of Bailey Flynn, Matthew Nojoomi, Michael Pan, Kamal Shah, and Erica Skerrett. The low cost and simple design of the product is what stood out in the competition.

“The simple design of this device gives it the potential to have a widespread effect,” said Dr. Erim. “The ability to look at a problem in healthcare and create an inexpensive and viable solution for worldwide distribution is the type of thinking we want to encourage with this program.”

“Undergraduates like those who participated in this competition are the future of biomedical research,” said NIBIB Director Roderic I. Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D. “Hopefully this program will challenge students early in their education to think about solving real world problems in healthcare and to consider a career in the biomedical sciences.”

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