Student teams fare well in local entrepreneurial competition
Illinois bioengineering student-developed technologies that aim to help medical professionals avoid ergonomic-related work injuries and help advance cardiac disease imaging placed third in the 17th annual Cozad New Venture Competition sponsored by the Technology Entrepreneur Center on campus.
VR MD, a sensor-based virtual reality technology that tracks and corrects posture for medical professionals, won more than $20,000 in cash and in-kind support for teams commercializing their own ideas. PhantomCor, a Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) student design team that is innovating heart phantom design, also earned cash an in-kind support (space at the campus incubator facility and legal and mentoring services) for commercializing university-funded research.
Bioengineering senior Asif Bhatti developed the VR MD technology in collaboration with Christie Clinic Doctor Allison Jones and Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering graduate student Ramkumar Komanduri. According to Bhatti, surgeons are particularly prone to injuries because they stand for long periods of time and are often in non-neutral positions over time during surgery. Those conditions could lead to injuries that cost more than $600,000 in treatment and lost productivity.
“Medical professionals have an 80 percent chance of sustaining a work-related injury in their first 10 years of practice,” said Bhatti. “There’s no standard education for injury prevention in the medical field, so we developed a sensor-based virtual reality platform to educate, track, and correct ergonomic posture for practicing medical professionals.”
VR MD simulations educate medical professionals on best ergonomic postures, trains them on operating room safety and compliance, tracks their posture across time to measure ergonomic performance, and provides visual and sensor-based feedback for real-time correction of posture during training.
The PhantomCor team is commercializing technology originally championed by Bioengineering faculty Wawrzyniec Dobrucki and Brad Sutton. Researchers and doctors use heart phantoms, which are hydrogo-gel based organ models, to calibrate imaging equipment and to study different disease states.
Existing heart phantoms are typically static, expensive, and only work with one imaging method—MRI or ultrasound, said bioengineering junior Hiba Shahid, who also works as a research associate at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.
“The closer we can get to a dynamic moving heart, the better the images and the better the quantitative data,” Shahid said. “This will lead to more personalized medicine and improved therapeutics.”
There are three components to the PhantomCor technology – the electrical system (voltage source and Arduino), the mechanical system that drives the pump, and the heart itself. Eventually, they will be able to incorporate anatomical features specific to the patient, even using UV light to harden certain areas to simulate dead tissue.
Because silicon is biocompatible and similar to human tissue, it can be used in all three imaging modalities, MRI, CT, and ultrasound, doing so with a higher resolution than its predecessors.
Through a photoplethysmogram (PPG), the team can determine the pressure of the arteries in the chamber and accurately determine the increase and decrease in volume of blood flowing through the heart. On the back end they are building an electrical signals “library” which will be used to compare the condition of the phantom heart to the characteristics of someone with a certain heart condition. In testing, they are comparing the condition actually being portrayed by the phantom with those abnormalities.
“The ultimate goal is to simulate a patient’s heart anatomically and functionally, which has not happened before,” Shahid said. “When you’re able to accurately simulate a patient’s heart, then surgeons can use this before open heart surgery to get a close-up view of what’s actually going on.”