CI MED Team Advances to Finals of Cozad New Venture Challenge

April 14, 2023
Beth Hart

Written by Beth Hart

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A team of Carle Illinois College of Medicine physician innovators has been selected as a finalist in the Cozad New Venture Challenge at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for its device that could offer new hope to brain cancer patients.

Emily Smith and Anant Naik
Emily Smith and Anant Naik

Beacon, founded by CI MED students Anant Naik, Emily Smith, and Al Smith, is developing a new treatment that uses light therapy to lengthen the lives of patients who have undergone surgery to remove an aggressive form of brain cancer. Patients with glioblastomas (GBM) have a median patient survival rate of just 12-18 months following standard treatment with surgery, followed by chemotherapy and targeted radiation. “Our Beacon device is working to allow for photodynamic therapy treatment, a novel treatment that uses light to destroy remaining tumor cells, outside the operating room,” Naik said.

Following GBM surgery, the new device would be surgically implanted over the tumor cavity to direct the photodynamic therapy at the cancer site. Recent trials have shown photodynamic therapy can increase survival to 23-28 months, possibly doubling survival times associated with standard therapies. The treatment could offer a safe supplement to radiation and chemotherapy, which can destroy healthy cells along with residual malignant cells. The Beacon therapy could also be repeated based on the tumor’s responsiveness. “We want to serve as a beacon of hope for these patients,” Naik said. 

The team delivered one of the top elevator pitches of the 2023 Cozad Competition before being chosen to advance to the finals. Naik – the team's leader – is CI MED’s first graduate to specialize in neurosurgery, starting as a resident at the University of Minnesota this summer. Emily Smith will begin her residency in radiation oncology at Stanford this summer.

Photo courtesy of the <a href="">Technology Entrepreneur Center</a>
Photo courtesy of the Technology Entrepreneur Center

The campus-wide Cozad New Venture Challenge at UIUC connects student entrepreneurs with investors and mentors, with start-ups competing for a pool of $300,000 in cash and prizes. The entrepreneurs compete in an elevator pitch session, followed by a live demo day. Seven teams were chosen to advance to the finals on April 19, 2023, at the Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago.

This year, 97 start-ups from across the UIUC campus advanced to Demo Day, including 25 teams competing in the new health care track, created in collaboration with and sponsored by Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CI MED). The health care track provides access to mentors for health care teams, guidance related to commercializing medical technologies, and access to a health care-specific prize pool. 17 of the 25 teams competing in the health care track are CI MED student-led teams.

CI MED teams that Advanced to Demo Day:

*Neuronetix, led by CI MED students Neddie Byron and Alexa Lauinger, is working on a device to quantify the diagnosis of concussions. Current diagnosis protocols are based on subjective self-reporting of symptoms, but Neuronetix is working to create a metric that uses a blood test to quickly, accurately, and objectively determine if a concussion has occurred. The innovation is especially important in diagnosing concussion in student athletes, as well as others. The team won first place at The Grainger College of Engineering’s Startup Showcase at Engineering Open House. Read more here.

HydroDyn, led by CI MED students Richard Um and Modan Goldman, is developing a device to improve treatment for excess fluid on the brain, a condition called hydrocephalus. The start-up is focused on elevating the performance of ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunts, the devices used to drain excess fluid from the brain and relieve pressure. But Um’s research revealed the current systems often fail, either through obstructions or failure to drain properly.  The team’s innovation would integrate continuous intracranial pressure monitoring and active components that would signal when there’s a problem with the drainage system. Their goal is to deliver critical insights and increased longevity for better patient outcomes.

FallProtection is a device to help patients and aging individuals at risk for falls to do aerobic exercise safely to improve their physical health. “Our system will integrate a safer deceleration device that allows a broader range of exercise intensity,” said Team Lead and CI MED student Brian Wadugu. “It will also include an inbuilt smart fall-detection feature for timely and safer engagement of the fall-arrest by the deceleration system. By guaranteeing safety even with more intensive exercise routines, the patient will be more confident to reach their best potential during exercise and recovery.” Wadugu plans to use any funding he receives from the Cozad competition to help build a team of experts to work on research and development of the device. He says the innovation could be used in hospitals, physical therapy centers, nursing homes, and fitness centers that rehabilitate patients with mobility problems due to age, stroke, spinal injury, and other traumas. 

*Cervicare seeks to advance cervical cancer diagnosis with a new bedside screening test. The solution is aimed at limiting the cost and need for follow-up in underserved communities with limited medical resources. “Cervicare’s novel collection system is modeled off of tampons to increase customer comfort, and the lateral flow biomarker test circumvents the need for pathologists which significantly decreases expense and time to results,” said CI MED student Nellie Haug.  This start-up team includes CI MED students Bhargavee Gnanasambandam (team leader), Nellie Haug, Caleb Bowman, Modan Goldman, and Grace Brolly.

The start-up *Beta Biofluidics aims to improve the efficiency of pregnancy testing in the clinical setting with a saliva-based pregnancy test. CI MED student Ryan Monjazeb leads the team that seeks to improve accessibility, efficiency, and patient cooperation while aiding health care providers in detecting pregnancy. Hospitals typically test urine or blood samples to determine if a patient is pregnant before performing certain tests and procedures, but those methods can put additional strain on hospital resources. “Our test will improve hospital workflow by allowing patients to immediately provide test samples on request (no need for the patient to go to the restroom to perform the test) and by reducing the likelihood of lost test samples (fewer sample hand-offs),” Monjazeb said. The new test would consist of two parts: a sample strip and a sample analyzer. It would be marketed to hospitals, clinics, and other health care facilities, but not for in-home use.

For patients with soft-tissue wounds, including pressure injuries, proper management is crucial. *SKINthetics, a start-up headed by CI MED students Christian Guerrero-Juarez and Aditya Vaidyam is developing an intelligent, multimodal system to provide timely and proper wound care for patients with these conditions. “The SKINthetics flexible bandage contains an aptamer-based biosensor that can quantify the wound healing state based on molecules ‘emitted’ by the natural wound healing process as well as by interfering pathogens such as bacteria or fungi,” Vaidyam said. The quantifiable data signal a special app, notifying the patient’s contacts when it’s time for a dressing change. Vaidyam and Guerrero-Juarez say their service could prevent wound-related complications and improve patients’ quality of life.

Sound Asleep, led by CI MED student Maggie Li, is developing wearable sleep technology to read brainwaves, analyze sleep stages and quality, and deliver personalized auditory stimulation to maximize the benefits of sleep. The technology would consist of a wearable device that can detect and process EEG signals in real-time, and deliver auditory stimulation tailored to the user's sleep stage. Li says there are no existing devices that simultaneously read real-time EEG data and provide auditory stimuli. The device would be non-invasive, user-friendly, and customizable through an app interface. Li’s team members include CI MED students Nafisa Mostofa, Mihir Patil, Shrey Patel, and Vedant Jain, as well as Dr. Charles Davies, the head of sleep medicine at Carle Foundation Hospital.

Other CI MED start-ups include:

  • Accurtone - building the next-generation pulse oximeter that accurately measures the oxygen levels in blood across the varying skin tones of people. Team lead: Jose Beltran, CI MED
  • Ambiscope - a dexterous, ergonomic, and manually articulating device that enables surgical traction and counter traction during tonsillectomy.  Team lead: Michael Pozin, CI MED
  • - Altruism redefined by you. Helping others and getting help just got real and easy. Create content, organize events, form communities, reach out, and get recognized. Team Lead: Phillip Chun, CI MED
  • CeFlo - developing a smart application to help streamline the hospital workflow with dynamic appointment scheduling that optimizes both physician and patient availability. Team Lead: Megan Amber Lim, CI MED
  • Dew Health – Seamless patient education beyond office visit to improve care with easy-to-digest, easy-to-prescribe, and entertaining educational content. Team Lead: Anthony Bosshardt, CI MED; Phillip Chun, CI MED
  • Diabetacoach – a service to help overcome diabetes burnout where you meet with a coach for personal 1-on-1 sessions twice weekly to de-stress and collaborate to set achievable goals for your diabetes management. Read more here. Team Lead: Bara Saadah, CI MED
  • Medical Nutrition - A platform that provides nutritional advice and versatile recipes to patients with chronic diseases such as chronic kidney disease based on their medical parameters. Team Lead, Rand Kittani, CI MED
  • Neurome - A revolutionary microbiome analysis that provides personalized insights into neurological health and function. Team Lead: Modan Goldman, CI MED; Richard Um, CI MED
  • STREAM - A cutting-edge, health monitoring device that seamlessly integrates into patients’ daily lives, with an up-to-date, nonintrusive way to assess kidney function and overall health through analysis of urine samples taken from the patient’s home toilet.  This innovation expands on a previous CI MED student innovation, the Smart Toilet, proposed by Yusi Gong (Class of 2022). Team Lead: Mukul Govande, CI MED

Four of the CI MED teams got their start through the AxisMED pre-incubation program co-founded by CI MED students Ariana Barreau and Al Smith.

In 2022, two CI MED-affiliated teams tied for second place in the overall competition. Jeffrey Lu’s start-up, Ferritiva, won accolades for their efforts to develop a saliva-based test for iron deficiency anemia. Team Nephra continues its work to develop engineering software for chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients to monitor their potassium levels using a handheld electrocardiogram (ECG). CI MED student Suma Gangidi was part of this winning start-up, co-founded by UIUC bioengineering student Amartya Dave. Both teams sprung from work with AxisMED.

*Denotes an AxisMED team.

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This story was published April 14, 2023.