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U Students Inventing Tomorrow's Medical Devices

Who says students can't invent life-changing medical technologies? University of Utah students who compete in the annual Bench-2-Bedside competition are proving they can help improve global health, propel their careers and boost their bank account by creating new medical devices.

The third Bench-2-Bedside season concludes with the annual competition, showcase and award ceremony at The Point in the Huntsman Cancer Institute (sixth floor) on Friday, April 12 at 6-8:30 p.m. More than 15 teams of students from across campus will be showcasing their inventions after spending a year creating prototypes and honing their business plans. Winners will receive more than $70,000 in cash and other prizes to develop their idea.

It's incredible what these students accomplish with a few hundred dollars and a lot of ambition," says John Langell, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., a surgeon and the director of the U's Center for Medical Innovation, the parent organization for Bench-2-Bedside. "Students in this competition have come up with important and promising ideas. Many of them have taken their ideas to the next level, securing patents and starting companies.

Competitors this year come from diverse backgrounds. Many are medical, engineering and business students, and their inventions are just as diverse. A few of the inventions that will be on display at this year's competition include:

  • Smart phone attachment for eye exams
  • New tools for gynecologic exams
  • Enhanced bone drill that prevents soft tissue damage
  • Optical blood-loss detector
  • Stitches for use in field
  • Imaging-guided spinal needle
  • Standardizing subjective portions of physical exams

The season begins in the fall, when each team gets $500 to build a prototype. They then spend the rest of the year talking to mentors, experimenting in labs, fabricating in machine shops and polishing their business pitches.

What the technologies have in common is real potential for funding and commercial development. Many of the students, especially those pursuing careers in medicine and engineering, have a chance to create their own job if they succeed in this competition.

At least four past teams have created LLC's, and we've seen six or more teams secure utility patents," says Matthew Sorensen, a medical student at the U and president of Bench-2-Bedside.

Past teams that have had success include IlluMed, one of the winners of the first Bench-2-Bedside competition three years ago. They have an inexpensive surgical light for use in developing countries. They are at an advanced stage of development, and team members have travelled to Mongolia for field research. Last year's winner, LIYEN, has a novel inhaler for people with asthma and other respiratory ailments, and they are still aggressively working on their product.

While the students hope to invent the next medical breakthrough, they are also getting a one-of-a-kind experience that will lift them to the next stage in their lives and careers.

I've talked with physicians and industry leaders around the state who have been surprised we get this much support as students," Sorensen said. "Competing in Bench-2-Bedside definitely helps our students stand out from the crowd."

Bench-2-Bedside is made possible with help from many departments and organizations. Zions Bank has sponsored the event since its inception and upped its commitment this year to $150,000. Other University of Utah departments that have provided support include the Lassonde Entrepreneur Center and the Technology Venture Development office.