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New student org targets biodesign

A small group of students with a big interest in the innovative process and potential reward of successful biodesign efforts have initiated a new student organization at the University of Missouri.

MU Biomedical Competitive Advancement Team (Biocats) was established in April 2010, and members spent the past year exploring how the group might be structured based on options and opportunities for students to be involved in the burgeoning field of identifying and solving medical needs.

“We wanted to create an opportunity that wasn’t there for undergraduates,” said Brittani Bungart, a bioengineering senior and one of the org’s founders. “A lot of times, people get through engineering and their only experience is their capstone project.”

Members attended the National Collegiate Inventor and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) second annual BMEStart competition in October 2010, in Austin, Texas, to learn more about their options. NCIIA annually hosts two biomedical engineering competitions for university students to “identify and recognize innovative, commercially promising medical devices and technologies developed by entrepreneurial student teams,” according to their website.

Competition is stiff and the payoff lucrative; the winning team at each event is awarded a $10,000 prize. A North Carolina State University team won the 2010 BMEStart for their inexpensive design of a lens that will help keep eyes hydrated over an extended period of time while also preventing infection in patients who have lost control over eyelid function due to traumatic brain injury.

MU Biocats have spent countless hours attempting to identify a legitimate medical need that meets the requirements of being previously unsolved, feasible and affordable. They currently are working on a project involving blood filtering, but are tight-lipped about specifics.

Ideas are generated through clinical observance and discussions with healthcare professionals and then a literature and patent search is conducted to see if the problem has been worked on, or solved, by others.

“I’ve become an expert at patent searches,” said Chris Sinks, senior bioengineering and economics double major, who joined the group in October 2010. “We’ve discarded many ideas after patent searches.”

Sinks’ background in economics is attractive to the composition of the Biocats since the third part of the entrepreneurial bioengineering equation — after identifying a market need and innovating a unique solution — is the solution’s potential for commercialization.

“There can be a big disconnect between engineers and marketing,” Sinks said.

A membership meeting was held in March, hosted by Biocats members Bungart, Sinks, Bryce Romans, a senior bioengineering student, and Landon Pogue, a senior mathematics major. More than a dozen students expressed interest in joining and participating.

The membership meeting included a presentation about Engineering World Health (EWH) biodesign competitions. Participants in these competitions either identify challenges in providing health care in developing countries that are suited to a technology solution, or choose to work on a challenge from the group’s “Projects That Matter” list. Some potential new members are especially interested in the EWH challenges.

Both Bungart and Sinks expressed interest in recruiting a group of participants with varied backgrounds to Biocats because diverse talents and competencies increase the potential success of a greater variety of projects.

“My dream is that we would have multiple projects and several teams working at once,” said Bungart.

Biocats meet at 5:15 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Agricultural Engineering Building. James Lee, assistant professor of biological engineering is group’s advisor. Anyone wanting more information may contact Bungart at bbf29@mail.mizzou.edu.