One distinguishing feature of Tech’s BME program is Senior Design (also known as Capstone), in which students are faced with the challenge of designing a product that can meet industrial standards and satisfy a commercial need. Following the course, some groups transform their project from a dream and into a burgeoning startup company. One such startup that rose from a Senior Design project is Monitor Med Solutions, co-founded by formed BME students Bailey Ernstes, Jacob Kazlow, and Carrie Simpson. Monitor Med Solutions provides both patients suffering from increased cranial pressure and their families a mobile method to monitor shunt performance at home by integrating pressure sensors into the patient’s shunt system which are linked to a phone app for easy access.
When the founders of Monitor Med Solutions first embarked on Capstone, they all planned to go into medicine and not one thought they would one day commercialize their product. Their project revolved around helping hydrocephalus patients who suffer from a swelling of ventricles in the brain due to a buildup of fluid in cavities within the brain. The manifest danger is in how the swelling could impact mental development in children and cause seizures, and, if left untreated, death. The current treatment is to use a cerebral shunt and catheter system to pipe out the extra cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the brain to the abdomen where it is reabsorbed into the body.
When I interviewed Ms. Ernstes, she informed me that this treatment is still imperfect. Within the first year, 40% of shunts fail with failure being undetectable by the naked eye. Patients, who are mostly children, experience symptoms of nausea and headaches which can also occur while the shunt is intact, resulting in a large amount of unnecessary hospital visits and CT scans. Since her team placed an emphasis on identifying the problem first, the team contacted the National Hydrocephalus Foundation and the Hydrocephalus Association and asked them to share a survey they had made. The team subsequently received over five hundred responses including many heartbreaking stories of families’ experiences with the condition and, of these patients, 175 agreed for update-emails to be sent to them as the project progressed. One patient Ernstes recounted from the stories her team had gathered was about a 13-year old who had had 90 brain surgeries; while this is an extreme case, it was still not uncommon for children to undergo more than one brain surgery a year. After hearing these stories and realizing the difficulties hydrocephalus patients bear, the team decided to commercialize their product, which they hoped would provide a more economical and convenient way to test for shunt failures.
After identifying the issues with the current treatment system, the team worked on developing a solution. While they developed multiple methods for shunt testing, the Senior Design class, led by Professor Rains, imparted valuable lessons about the many facets of creating a product from compliance with FDA regulations to applying for patents.
After attending the Senior Design Expo, the team also competed in the Ian’s Friends Foundation Competition in April, 2015 and was awarded $5000. The team was then accepted by Neuro Launch, an accelerator program for startup companies in the field of neurology, in June this year as a startup company. From there, the team embarked upon a 3-month curriculum of lectures and advisement from professionals in the field including hospital administrators, lawyers, and neurosurgeons. Ernstes described the process as being very helpful in helping detail the general outline of a startup company that the Senior Design class teaches. Neuro Launch also helped the new startup by providing a legal assistance for the new company and funding – one of the main challenges Monitor Med Solutions faces today – in the form of an investment. Due to hydrocephalus being a relatively rare disorder with only about 20,000 – 200,000 cases in the United States per year (compared to a disease such as melanoma), there are less investors and funds going towards development of treatments for the disease.
In the end, Monitor Med Solutions is a fledgling startup company with the potential to better the lives of children suffering from hydrocephalus nationwide. The company is a shining product of a unique aspect of our BME program, the Senior Design course, where talented and driven students can come together and use the knowledge accumulated over their college careers to create something amazing and applicable in the medical world.