NIBIB and VentureWell announce winners of 2021 DEBUT challenge

Eight innovative projects focused on improving global health won the Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams (DEBUT) Challenge. Five projects also received honorable mentions.

The winners showed exemplary initiative in designing tools for a myriad of healthcare challenges. DEBUT is a biomedical engineering design challenge for teams of undergraduate students, managed by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and VentureWell, a non-profit that supports science and technology innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education.

DEBUT received 76 applications from 47 universities in 26 states, engaging nearly 400 students
this year.

meet the 2021 DEBUT challenge winners

Use the links below to learn more about each team’s entry and watch videos submitted by the prize-winning teams.

Steven H. Krosnick (First Place) Prize: $20,000

University of South Florida

The Eucovent is a patent-pending medical device that allows for multiple patients to be ventilated with a single ventilator. Through incorporation of ball valves operated by a microcontroller, the Eucovent alternates airflow between each patient. The inspiratory to expiratory (I:E) ratio, a parameter used by ventilator systems, is increased on the ventilator to account for multiple patients. This allows for breaths to be split between patients, delivering air at the correct timing.

The idea for this device began with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. Due to the high-risk nature of cancer patients with COVID-19, a solution that could increase ventilator capabilities and address complications seen in previous co-ventilation devices was desperately needed. Individuals with differing lung physiologies or have progressed farther into their disease state need different settings of pressure and volume on the ventilator.

The Eucovent device was developed to allow individual pressures and volumes be delivered to each patient from the same ventilator. Eucovent addresses safety concerns traditionally associated with co-ventilation, and can be applied to various populations. Low resource settings (such as clinics in rural areas), military conditions, and natural disaster scenarios are just some of the environments where Eucovent can help increase ventilator capabilities.

Team Captain: Abby Blocker
Team Members: Carolyna Yamamoto Alves Pinto, Jacob Yarinsky
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Souheil Zekri

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2nd Place Prize: $15,000

CephaloPump: The Assistive Treatment Device for Low Differential Pressure Hydrocephalus
Rice University

Hydrocephalus is a disease characterized by the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the ventricles of the brain. There are currently 1 million documented cases of hydrocephalus in the United States at an estimated incidence rate of 68 per 100,000 births, making it the prevailing cause of pediatric neurosurgery in the US.

With the advances in biotechnology and surgical techniques, many cases of hydrocephalus are treatable. The primary treatment regime for this disease is the surgical insertion of a CSF shunt system, connecting the space in the brain to a reservoir elsewhere in the body, via catheter tubing. For some cases of hydrocephalus, the intracranial pressure or pressure differential is not high enough to drive the transport of CSF through the shunt.

The goal of the CephaloPump is to address the needs of this vulnerable segment of the population for whom no treatment option exists by introducing a cheap, safe, and effective medical implant.

The CephaloPump functions by introducing two pressure sensors, one each to measure intracranial pressure (ICP) and reservoir pressure. Using the two pressures, the device’s onboard algorithm will instruct a pump to activate if set ICP and differential pressures are exceeded. The pump’s activation then encourages the flow of CSF until either of the activating pressures fall below the set thresholds,  removing the current barriers that exist for patients unable to be treated by conventional shunting techniques and allow them to live life free from the effects of hydrocephalus.

Team Captain: Cooper Lueck
Team Members: Patrick Bi, Samuel Brehm, Haafiz Hashim, Irene Kwon, Bill Wang
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Sabia Abidi

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3rd Place Prize: $10,000

Improving At-Home Glaucoma Monitoring Using a Low-Cost VR Application
Columbia University in the City of New York

There are over three million people who suffer from glaucoma in the U.S. The vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible, and most of the current treatments are focused on preventing further progression of the disease.

Preventing disease progression is heavily dependent on consistent monitoring; however, monitoring is often inadequate due to a number of factors including, improper intervals between examinations and poor patient adherence.

EyePhone is a mobile phone app that works in coordination with a cardboard VR headset to create a virtual reality field for at-home visual field testing. The device produces stimuli of varying intensities across the user’s visual field and uses voice recognition to document detection of the stimuli. The device utilizes existing visual field testing algorithms to assess a person’s vision outside of a doctor’s office, promoting more regular and accessible monitoring of glaucoma progression. 

Team Captain: Lauren Sekiguchi
Team Members: Allegra Campanini-Bonomi, Katherine Liu, Anisha Tyagi, Helen Ugulava
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Aaron Kyle

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HIV/Aids Prize: $15,000

Direct Detection of Overexpressed HIV-Associated miRNA via SERS Using a Low-Cost 3D Printed Device
Texas A & M University

Early diagnosis of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) remains a pivotal step in reducing viral transmission and mortality rates, especially in under-resourced populations where gaining access to clinical testing facilities can be difficult.

While antibody and antigen tests are readily available for HIV diagnosis at the point of care (POC), it takes approximately 30 days for the biomarkers to develop.

Nucleic acid tests (NAT) are capable of detecting HIV RNA within 10 days of infection (at the acute phase) offering immediate therapeutic intervention and prevention of disease propagation. However, these tests often require advanced testing facilities which may not be immediately accessible to remote, underserved, and underdeveloped populations. Currently, there is no NAT strategy available for detecting active-viremic patients at the POC, and as a result treatment plans become delayed and transmission continues.

To solve this clinical challenge, the team designed a modular 3D-printed POC device containing spectroscopically-active magnetic molecular sensing beacons capable of specifically and sensitively targeting miR-150, a biomarker associated with HIV. Surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) is then used to achieve ultrasensitive detection of biomolecules of interest. 

Team Captain: Sergio Gomez Avila
Team Members: Tristen Gates, Charlene Pua, Nhu Vu
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Samuel Mabbott

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Healthcare Technologies for Low-Resource Settings Prize: $15,000

Low-Cost, Point-of-Care Screening Device for Sickle Cell Disease
Lehigh University

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a common genetic blood disorder which affects more than 250 million people globally. The disease arises from an abnormal variant of hemoglobin in the bloodstream, which causes healthy red blood cells to assume a sickle shape and inhibit circulation.

When the disease became prevalent in the United States during the 20th century, there were sufficient resources for the innovation of advanced blood work procedures to diagnose sickle cell disease in its early stages. However, low-to-middle income countries, such as those in Sub-Saharan Africa, lack the means necessary to effectively cope with the disease.  Between 50-90% of affected individuals in this region die before the age of 5, thereby accounting for over half of the global deaths in children under 5.

The team is developing an inexpensive, point-of-care screening test strip designed to be implemented in Sub-Saharan healthcare systems, with the goal of lowering the staggering rate of infant death due to SCD. Modeled after the common pregnancy test, the test strip employs simplified immunoassay techniques with small quantities of reagents to ensure accurate results without compromising its affordability.

The team has established a network of healthcare and social workers with special interest in the problem in Sierra Leone, and hope to assist the efforts currently present in Sub-Saharan Africa to help raise awareness and definitively diagnose sickle cell disease in these regions.

Team Captain: Heidi Shen
Team Members: Alice Chen, Laura Duffany, Katie Goettle, Wei Ngai, Tiffany Pang, Tom Perillo
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Xuanhong Cheng

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Technologies for Cancer Prevention, Diagnosis, or Treatment Prize: $15,000

LowCostomy: An affordable colostomy bag for Ostomy patients in low resource settings
Duke University

Colostomy patients in low-resources settings, and especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to good quality colostomy products due to their high prices. Patients often have no choice but to resort to making their own solutions–such as duct taping a plastic bag to one’s stoma—which often leads to a decline in their stoma health and additional problems.

For this market the team has developed a good quality colostomy bag that is odor- and leak-proof, low cost, durable, comfortable, easy to clean and environmentally friendly. The bag is composed of repurposed and locally-sourced materials:  recycled plastic bags that have been ironed together; structural cuffs made of recycled plastic bottles; a cloth wrap which secures the bag to the body; and a beeswax solution to act as an adhesive, for a total cost of approximately  five cents per bag.

The bag was tested for durability, odor and leaks and preliminary results were successful and the team are now looking at getting IRB approvals to begin clinical testing.

Team Captain: Joanna Peng
Team Members: Amy Guan, Alanna Manfredini, Darienne Rogers
Faculty Sponsors: Dr. Ann Saterbak, Dr Dorothy Dow

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Venture Prize: $15,000

Georgia Institute of Technology

Telemedicine offers numerous advantages to patients and physicians over traditional in-person visits including convenience, accessibility, and cost-savings, but current telemedicine practices are limited to discussing patient history and visually inspecting patients, which only covers about 25% of all data collected during traditional in-person check ups.

The ability to listen to heart, lung, and abdominal sounds during telehealth visits would allow physicians a more complete assessment in evaluating a variety of cardiopulmonary and gastrointestinal conditions while maintaining the benefits of virtual medicine.

The team has created the AusculBand, a device that provides real-time and pre-recorded listening data to physicians to help expand upon their current virtual physical exam abilities. The AusculBand is a simple and unique patient facing stethoscope with an accompanying app for instructional guidance and televisit integration.

The tool provides 50% clearer and 100% louder audio compared to leading gold standard digital stethoscopes used exclusively by physicians. 

Team Captain: Keval Bollavaram
Team Members: Ram Akella, Ahdil Gill, Atharv Marathe, Sil Savla
Faculty Sponsor: Prof. James Rains

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Design Excellence Prize: $5,000

Needle Delivery Tool to Facilitate Transvaginal Injection of Medication to the Bladder
Stanford University

The team have developed a modified needle guide that enables transvaginal delivery of medication to the bladder for the treatment of Interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome (IC/BPS), a heterogenous pain disorder that disproportionately affects up to 7.9 million female patients worldwide.

The device includes an exterior needle guide, with a shape inspired by a vaginal dilator, that has a hollow track to guide the syringe that helps facilitate targeting and successful injection of therapeutics into the bladder trigone.

This streamlined approach allows for non-specialized physicians to administer medication more accurately, in a minimally invasive manner, improving upon the typical urethral route of medication delivery which is more painful for patients and requires sedation.

Team Captain: Peyton Freeman
Team Members: Oluremi Akindele, Chyna Mays
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Ross Venook

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Honorable Mention: $1,000

CLOC-300: Coagulation Lab-on-Chip Device
Western New England University

A low-cost point-of-care blood clotting time (BCT) analyzer that uses microfluidic lab-on-chip technology with an interdigitated passive pump, allowing patient blood samples to clot in the microchannel and readout BCT within 5-10 mins. The device can be easily distributed to healthcare systems in developing countries.

Team Captain: Allison Lukas
Team Members: Anna Cichon, Sara Cunha
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Devina Jaiswal

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Honorable Mention: $1,000

Objective and Accessible Concussion Diagnosis
University of Miami

A widely deployable objective method for diagnosing concussion at the moment of injury by tracking eye movement in patients. This novel solution utilizes mobile phone cameras to track eye movement and machine learning to provide a confidence level in patient concussion diagnosis.

Team Captain: Aaron Fils
Team Members: James Lai, Maisy Lam, Nicolas Wagner
Faculty Sponsors: Dr. Suhrud Rajguru

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Honorable Mention: $1,000

The RoboSock Post-Stroke Ankle Rehabilitation Device
Harvard University

An innovative, wearable robot that provides plantarflexor and dorsiflexor stretching and is optimized for portability, safety, and usability for both the stroke patient and the physical therapist. The device aims to treat symptoms of ankle spasticity with the ultimate goal of mitigating fall risk and is customizable to ensure a comfortable fit for all patients.

Team Captain: Liana Owen
Team Members: Bradley Baltz, Joseph Bilski, Sam Blackman, John Bourland, Kassia Love, Toby Ma, Jason Martel, Anicia Miller, Aracely Moreno, Tran Nguyen, Eugene Veloso, Saba Zerefa
Faculty Sponsors: Dr. Linsey Moyer

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Honorable Mention: $1,000

Johns Hopkins University

A novel pacemaker design that includes a thermoelectic generator (TEG) to power it, which eliminates the need for battery replacement surgery thereby reducing costs and potential surgical complications.

Team Captain: Arshdeep Singh
Team Members: William Blair, Deepti Sudhaker
Faculty Sponsors: Dr. Charbel Rizk

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Honorable Mention: $1,000

DuoPouch: A calibrated, two-pouch system to diagnose postpartum hemorrhage
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

A simple and cost-effective two-pouch drape to aid in easy quantification of blood loss by postpartum hemorrhage, which is a leading cause of maternal death worldwide. The product can easily be deployed in all environments, particularly low-resource settings.

Team Captain: Joshua Stadler
Team Members: Emily Chandler, Rachel Gasser, Alexandra Kedzierski, Emma Sethi
Faculty Sponsors: Dr. Shai Ashkenazi

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