Kickstarting Healthcare Innovation with the Rothberg Catalyzer Prototype Fund
With support from the Rothberg Catalyzer program, the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY) offered grants of up to $1,000 this semester to kickstart student teams who are developing innovative hardware or AI solutions to healthcare issues. These small grants — offered through the newly created Rothberg Catalyzer Prototype Fund — aim to support the earlier stages of Yale’s pipeline for student innovation in medical tech, helping students advance projects that might ultimately become candidates for the campus’ annual Rothberg Catalyzer Prize (which awards $15,000 to an outstanding student team) or other opportunities.
This year’s recipients of the Rothberg Catalyzer Prototype Fund grants included students from Yale College, School of Management (SOM), Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GSAS), and School of Medicine (YSM) addressing medical challenges such as arthritis, opioid overdose, and lung cancer. Over the past month, we spoke with the teams behind five projects to learn more.
EnlighteN Naloxone Sensory Injector
Lena Goldstein (YC ‘22), Sol Bloomfield (YC ‘22), Chandra Finke (YC ‘23), Joshua Ip (YC ’22), and Jacob Garetti (YC ’22) // A device that couples a sensor detecting your pulse and blood-oxygen saturation level with Naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses.
“There are millions of Americans who suffer from Opioid Use Disorder, and we want to eliminate their reliance on third parties to provide naloxone in the event of an overdose.”
What interested or inspired each of you to work on this project?
Sol Bloomfield: The opioid crisis is a huge issue, and when Dr. Minhee Sung, a physician who is working with us on the project, proposed it, it seemed like an ingenious way to help a lot of people. As someone who did robotics in high school, I really wanted to get my hands on something physical instead of a piece of software.
Lena Goldstein: The main problem we are trying to address is that overdose deaths often occur in solitary settings, without anyone around to provide naloxone. Currently the drug can’t be administered without a third party, so there’s no tool to help opioid use disorder patients who overdose in isolated conditions. Our device would mitigate that problem by eliminating the reliance on a third-party bystander.
Chandra Finke: The reason why I was onboard with the project so quickly is to provide for an underrepresented population: opioid-use disorder patients.
What are you working on now?
Bloomfield: We’re working on getting IRB approval for a qualitative study to interview potential users of our product. We want to ask questions like, “Would you want the device to incorporate some type of emergency response?” or, “Would you want it as a bracelet or a patch?” We’re hoping to get a better sense of who our exact users are and what kind of things we want to incorporate into our minimum viable product.
Markea Dickinson (SOM ’20) and Debbie Dickinson // Seeing nothing discreet, natural, stylish, and effective on the market, the ThermaBand team seeks to provide thermal comfort to users, especially those suffering from hot flashes, through a wearable smart thermostat.
“My mom is both the co-founder and the customer, so we really have that connection to what the customer wants and needs.”
How did you come up with the idea for ThermaBand?
Markea Dickinson: I pursued my MBA in the first place because I knew I wanted to do entrepreneurship — I knew I wanted to make people’s lives better in some way. But I didn’t have an idea. I thought that maybe a bright idea would pop into my head! That never happened to me…but it actually happened to my mom. My mom is in her fifties, menopausal, and she’s been having bad hot flashes recently. This past September, she called and said that she had a really interesting idea — a wearable device that addresses this issue. Then she became my co-founder, and we created ThermaBand.
As you continue prototyping, what goals do you have in mind?
M. Dickinson: The goal in the short term is to target the 30 million women in the US who are menopausal and to provide a solution for them to not have to suffer in silence with hot flashes. Longer-term, we want to look at the global market and other groups that need this technology. It goes far beyond the niche of menopausal women. We’ve been tapping into reasons why people experience thermal discomfort, like hormonal imbalances or temperature swings, so the end goal really is to allow people to have a solution to make their bodies comfortable wherever they are, whenever they’d like.
Shrikant Pawar (Associate Research Scientist, YSM) and Damir Musaev (YSM ‘22) // An application of Artificial Intelligence (AI), or machine learning, on chest X-ray data to aid in diagnosis of lung pathologies like tuberculosis and lung cancer.
“If AI can detect cars, shouldn’t we be able to use it to detect lung pathologies?”
Who is this technology for?
Damir Musaev: We’re trying to focus on helping developing countries and rural areas, where, for example, they have one doctor or a couple of doctors taking care of hundreds of people. Moreover, these areas lack experienced doctors who can really look at the X-rays and tell confidently what the disease is. We want to aid those physicians to predict the disease, diagnose it, and start the proper treatment of the disease early on.
What experiences led you to come up with this idea?
Shrikant Pawar: Machine learning is a new technique that is present in many fields other than healthcare. Because it has proven to be useful for other datasets, our idea is if we could use it on radiological data — X-rays — we could come up with some interesting solutions to healthcare problems. That’s what motivated us to come up with this idea.
For example, machine learning can analyze live videos such as parking lots, and it can tell whether a spot is available or taken. In the same way, if AI can detect cars, shouldn’t we be able to use it to detect lung pathologies?
Tim Adamson (GSAS ’23) and Yaw Ansong Jr. // KovaDx builds medical devices that diagnose blood diseases like sickle cell anemia using quantitative phase imaging and machine learning.
“When Yaw realized how expensive and inaccessible the current sickle cell diagnostic tests were to many of his patients, he wanted to find a solution.”
How did you two come up with the idea for KovaDx?
Tim Adamson: Yaw is himself a carrier of the sickle cell gene and has had the privilege of practicing as a doctor in Ghana. When Yaw realized how expensive and inaccessible the current sickle cell diagnostic tests were to many of his patients, he wanted to find a solution. I loved the idea, and the two of us have worked together from the very beginning.
What have you been focusing on during the prototyping process?
Adamson: We have been designing a point-of-care blood diagnostic device, building on top of well-established research from prestigious universities. Specifically, we are considering different designs for a disposable cartridge which will use micro-fluidics to help image the blood.
Austin-Marley Windham-Herman (YSM ’21) and David Dupee (SOM ’21) // The only light-weight, reusable core needle biopsy device (CNB) on the market.
“We estimate that up to 1 billion people are without access to CNB services in Africa alone.”
Tell us more about ReCore and its mission.
Marley Windham-Herman: Core needle biopsies (CNB) are one of the most common and critical Interventional Radiology (IR) procedures around the world. However, we estimate that up to 1 billion people are without access to CNB services in Africa alone. Traditional disposable devices have high per-procedure costs, and metal reusable devices are too heavy to use in most procedures. ReCore is a sterilizable, plastic CNB device that can lower costs and increase access to this important procedure.
What was the inspiration for ReCore? Was there any “light bulb” moment?
Windham-Herman: Over the past two years, Yale interventional radiologists have developed a partnership with the first-in-country interventional radiology training program in Tanzania. As a medical student on the team at that time, I met and spoke with the Tanzanian physicians when they came to New York for a medical conference. Our conversations revealed that procurement of specialized equipment, specifically for core needle biopsies, was one of the main challenges they faced. Our team saw this as an opportunity for an innovative device that would allow IR departments to continue to grow their services, acquire more equipment, and ultimately serve more patients.
What has your team been focusing on during the prototyping process?
Windham-Herman: We have explored many design options, and are currently rapidly prototyping some of the best candidates. We have developed a handle and needle interchange system, and will begin initial testing of the 3D printed models this week. For our next steps, we are in dialogue with multiple suppliers for future contract manufacturing of biopsy needle systems and medical grade thermoplastic handles.
Tune in on Thursday, April 16, to watch finalists pitch for the 2020 Rothberg Catalyzer Prize at Yale — EnlighteN, KovaDx and ThermaBand are among the teams pitching! Learn more and register here.
By David Hou | Contributing photographer: Andrew Nguyen