Student engineers innovate in Bench-to-Bedside competition
Mark Atwater posted on September 16, 2013 |

Few areas are as vibrant with new technology and new techniques as medicine. The faster, simpler, and more reliable a procedure is, the easier it is on both the doctor and the patient. More timely and accurate diagnostics are equally as important. Even with all the effort invested into medical innovation, there are always ways to improve care. That’s where the Bench-to-Bedside competition comes in.

The University of Utah competition began as a beta-test for the BioInnovate program, but has become a very popular student program. As explained on the Center for Medical Innovation’s website, “Student teams form into multidisciplinary ‘start-up’ companies and are given the task of identifying an unmet clinical need.”

Professional interaction is a key piece of the experience. The student teams are given access to more than 100 University physicians. These physicians serve in a diversity of specialties and act as consultants, key opinion leaders and stakeholders.

The pace is demanding and the funding tight. The teams have have only six months and $500 to produce medical device concepts that address their identified need. During that six-months students will have to evaluate the intellectual property landscape, prototype their design and develop a business plan.

At the conclusion of the program the students complete a formal presentation at an annual awards event. The team projects are evaluated and scored for business strategy, design quality and healthcare impact by a VIP panel of judges. The top teams are awarded over $70,000 in prizes intended to provide initial funding to support further project development.

There has been consistent excitement about the Bench-to-Bedside program. In the first year, 14 teams with over 100 students participated. The unique, innovative thinking the diverse student representatives brought resulted in some novel design concepts. Several of these ideas are progressing toward commercialization. In addition to many engineering students, nearly half of the entire first and second-year medical school class has participated.

The ability for engineering students to see real-life problems in context is an excellent professional development opportunity. The interaction with doctors and medical students is valuable to both sides, as they are leveraging each other’s skills to achieve a common goal. Medical professionals are made aware of the many engineering solutions available and engineering students are exposed to new problems. Applying engineering principles in real-world applications is a great way to emphasize the importance of the concepts learned in class. In this case, there are quite a few patients that will benefit as well.

Click on the video below for more on the Bench-to-Bedside program. For more information on 2013’s competition, click here.

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