Prize-winning CI MED Innovation Improves Quality of Life for Chemo Patients

6/4/2024 Beth Hart

Written by Beth Hart

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A Carle Illinois College of Medicine student is working to help more cancer patients get life-saving chemotherapy treatment without one of its most traumatic side effects – hair loss. A CI MED student-led team is leveraging engineering expertise to make existing hair-preserving technology more accessible, user-friendly, and affordable for more patients.

Mahima Goel
Mahima Goel

CI MED physician-innovator Mahima Goel and her team are developing a new product called CAPSLocks, aimed at improving the lives of patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment. “The first cancer patient that I ever treated said that the most distressing part of her treatment was actually the side effect of hair loss,” Goel said, explaining that studies show that up to 30% of cancer patients have considered delaying life-saving treatment to avoid the complication of hair loss. “I looked into it a little bit further and learned that there’s an FDA-approved technology that already exists and is available on the market, called scalp cooling.”

The technology works by having the cancer patient wear a frozen cap on their head during chemo infusion, which prevents the chemo from attacking their hair follicles. “It’s actually up to 90% effective in preventing hair loss,” said Goel, who wondered why such an effective method isn’t more widely used. “We did some market research at Carle Health, and everybody reported that the existing systems were too expensive, too bulky, and not user-friendly,” she said.

With a goal to build a more accessible scalp-cooling system, Goel formed a team that includes students and faculty from the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at The Grainger College of Engineering, along with faculty from CI MED and Carle Health. “We’ve been working with a great multidisciplinary team for the last two semesters to build out a prototype that is more compact, more affordable, and more light-weight than any other system currently available on the market,” Goel said.

The team’s business plan calls for renting out their device at less than half the rental price of existing systems. Goel says scalp-cooling treatment is now covered by Medicare, making it more affordable and more accessible for many patients.

“We hope our device can eventually make hair loss prevention a reality for every patient undergoing chemotherapy, not just the select few that are lucky enough to afford it now,” Goel said. “In this way, we hope to shift the paradigm of health innovation towards solving real-life, practical lifestyle applications in the lives of cancer patients and not just focusing solely on diagnosis or treatment."

Team CAPSLocks won top honors at two recent innovation challenges, including first place at The Grainger College of Engineering Open House and first place in Health Innovation in the Health Care Track at Cozad New Venture Challenge, sponsored by CI MED. Goel says the team will use their prize winnings to continue work on their prototype and conduct FDA safety testing.

“Winning the Engineering Open House and the Health Innovation prize means that we get to bring our product to the attention of a much greater community of people and get them interested in the kinds of vast impact that working at the intersection of medicine and engineering can have,” Goel said. She was also recently awarded a Research and Innovation Pathways Grant through CI MED.

In addition to Goel, the CAPSLocks team includes Health Technology master’s degree candidate Camryn Lynn, along with guidance from Professors Nenad Miljkovic (Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering) and Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler (CI MED Department of Biomedical and Translational Sciences and Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering) and Dr. Maria Grosse-Perdekamp (CI MED Department of Clinical Sciences).

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This story was published June 4, 2024.