Shrinking the gap between good ideas and medical technology

There’s often a big gap between a good idea and getting a product to market. One program, started in Washington University in St. Louis, is bridging that gap and spreading to other cities.


There's often a big gap between a good idea and getting a product to market.

One program, started at Washington University in St. Louis and spreading to other cities, is bridging that gap.

The result -- real-world experience and more than a few startups.

Reporter Jim Kirchherr has the story.

This is IDEA Lab's demo day -- presentations and pitches by students, from undergrads to post-docs, of products in various stages of development.

So, we're WOOTA.

We're a social venture that produces water out of air with no electrical input.

Yeah, so we just want to take all of the thinking and heavy lifting out of meal planning.

The teams are collaborative.

This is key.

Medical, engineering, and business, tackling unmet needs in healthcare delivery and clinical medicine.

So, keep an eye out for us.

We'll have a website up pretty soon.

The teams have the support, including a couple of thousand dollars, from Washington University and other sponsors.

So, what we do is that we have three missions.

Our first is to teach entrepreneurship to students in the university, but we're also here to solve medical technology problems, and then, ultimately, we're trying to impact and improve patient healthcare.

We met a team that's developed something called UroStat, a device that measures a hospital patient's urine output in real time.

And to find out more than the pitch, we met up with a couple of the team members in the IDEA Labs workshop that's been set up in an old operating room on the Washington University medical campus.

This is the simulated urine.

[ Chuckles ]

This is biomedical engineer Mrinal Pahwa.

This is Dr. Raphael Sun, a general surgery resident.

A third member of their team is handling the business plan.

They set up a demonstration of the product using an anatomically correct model usually used to train nurses to insert catheters.

The water fills the bladder inside, and then there's the usual setup -- the catheter leading to a container.

But it's hanging from the UroStat scale, which is constantly detecting the weight and computing the volume.

Comes through here, and then that's basically our microprocessor and amplifier.

You can see the bag filling up as it happens on the laptop.

In the ICU, it would go directly to the patient's electronic chart.

No waiting for a nurse to go into the room, to look, record, and enter the information.

What initially sparked my interest was when I was on the transplant service.

So, I would implant a new kidney for the patient, close up the operation, close up the patient, and bring them to the recovery unit.

And an hour would go by, and I would check the computer, and there was no urine output recorded.

So this really sparked my interest because, without knowing the urine output, this new kidney, we don't know what the function is 'cause the first few hours -- the first 24 hours -- is really important for you to know the status of how well that kidney is functioning.

This is exactly the kind of thing IDEA Labs promotes in the healthcare field, turning the 'I wish somebody would do something' into somebody actually doing something.

The doctor brings the idea to the engineer, they team up with someone who knows business, because this has to work as a device and as a product.

So, our biggest saving has been time right now.

So we've communicated to our investors and anyone listening that if we have this device in place and instead, a nurse does not have to actually manually check this and upload this information into a computer, we can save a nurse about two minutes every time they do this.

And 2 nurse minutes every hour, 24 hours a day, comes out to about 300 hours a year checking a urine bag.

So that must get somebody's attention.

Yeah, absolutely.

I think, if anything, the hospital will realize that they can spend their money more wisely to really help make sure that their outcomes are really strong for all of their patients.

If it works right, it should get to 842.

And if the cost of the device is low enough and the savings high enough, you've got a business.

All right.

The nice thing about it is, it doesn't...

The end goal after eight months is actually to create a company that can actually create a product to solve some medical challenge, so...

Are there success stories coming out of this?

Yeah, we've had really great traction.

So, of the past three years we've existed, we've actually had teams go on to achieve about $2.2 million of investment.

A lot of the IDEA Labs teams that have come this far will not get a product to market -- at least, not this time around.

So, this still isn't the right one yet, I don't think.

We're really in the prototype stage.

But if they do, and this is big, the idea, the product, the patent, the business -- it all belongs to them, not to the university.

Having that policy in clear writing has really motivated our teams to be able to say, 'I own this, and I'm doing it, so I'm gonna put a lot of effort into it.'

But certainly, this is something that's changed my career and my outlook on healthcare delivery.

And so, with IDEA Labs, there's this connection that's inherently built now, where someone like Dr. Sun had the idea for this entire project but didn't really know how to make it happen, he can find someone like myself to then kind of put the nuts and bolts together to make it work and then find some other friends who can build a business plan around it, and all of a sudden, we're kind of running full speed ahead, trying to make this happen.