Unleashing Creativity

As part of JeffSolves, medical and industrial design students pitched their ideas at B. PHL.

The 2017 merger of Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University has “unleashed unbelievable creativity,” says Dr. Mark L. Tykocinski, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. One perfect example occurred at the recent B. PHL Innovation Fest where two teams of Jefferson medical and graduate industrial design students pitched their novel ideas to a crowd at the Connelly Auditorium.

The steps leading to this point began earlier this year when students attended a “reverse pitch night.” Jefferson clinicians shared problems they encounter in their work, and students could pepper them with questions about their concerns. After attending this event, interested students chose an issue to design a solution for and submitted applications to join the JeffSolves program.

Members of Jefferson’s Health Design Lab, which runs JeffSolves, narrowed down the applications to a pair of teams: Respiro and EarPeace. Then, over the next nine months, the students conducted in-depth user research and problem identification to translate their insights into marketable innovations and a pitch at B. PHL. This year, the Health Design Lab partnered with Bresslergroup, a Philadelphia-based design and engineering firm, to help accelerate and guide product development.

Here’s a closer look at the two JeffSolves concepts presented:

Closeup shot of the Respiro mask
Respiro scavenges waste anesthetic gases. Studies show that prolonged exposure to common anesthetic agents can cause a variety of health concerns.

Medical students Cary Hess and Jonathan Karp and industrial design students Cory Jameson and Delara Kiani

What: A disposable device for scavenging waste anesthetic gases

Why: Studies show that prolonged exposure to common anesthetic agents can cause a variety of health concerns, including increased risk of miscarriages, birth defects, fertility issues, cancer and central nervous system depression. These hazards extend to those directly exposed to gases in the operating room, as well as members of their household.

Solution: Respiro is an affordable, easy-to-use outer shell that fits over the standard anesthetic mask with no interference to the regular tasks of the anesthesiologist.

Expert Opinion: “Respiro is an elegant product that solves a serious problem only beginning to be understood,” says Robert Pugliese, Jefferson’s director of innovation design and Health Design Lab co-founder and managing director. “This problem is similar to secondhand smoke, as its effects were long ignored. Respiro considers cost and the impact on the current system and minimizes disruption, so the likelihood of adoption is high.”

Closeup shot of the EarPeace on a model
EarPeace dampens sound for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Industrial design student Colin Lew and medical students Alex McCullough, Mohammad Rasool and Alison Romisher

What: A sound-dampening headband for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome

Why: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends noise levels to remain below 45 dB, but the NICU can easily reach 60-100 dB. Infants are born with NAS when their mothers use substances like opioids while pregnant. They’re hyperirritable and prone to sleep disturbances, both of which can be intensified by their hypersensitivity to noise. Better-rested infants with NAS mean reduced pharmacologic care and hospital length of stay.

Solution: The easy-to-place and adjustable earmuffs decrease noise levels and offer maximum sound protection. The open top and breathable fabric prevent overheating, and the contoured shape provides a secure fit.

Expert Thoughts: “EarPeace is another great solution for a hard-to-measure yet important problem just beginning to be better understood,” Pugliese says. “Standards from different healthcare organizations state that being exposed to sound above a certain decibel range can be harmful; however, we have few strategies to actually meet those recommendations. This team identified that sound in ‘quiet zones’ in NICUs never went below the recommended decibel level and frequently reached the level of a train passing by. This product also could have applicability in the consumer market.”

Sidney Kimmel Medical College student Jonathan Karp pitches Respiro at the B. PHL Innovation Fest.

Following their B. PHL presentations, the students must decide what they want to do with their inventions, Pugliese says.

“The next step is usually to conduct a clinical trial to prove the effectiveness of their product, which requires funding,” he says. “Some teams may decide to take on this task themselves, and some may look for outside help and support from an incubator or venture program. Throughout this process, Jefferson’s Innovation team is there to support and coach students with the complex task of starting a new commercial entity.”

Eleven products from four JeffSolves’ cohorts have received patents since the program’s inception in 2016. For example, the smart hospital lighting system, Circalux, illuminates at a wavelength that doesn’t disrupt patient sleep. And Flip Catch, a redesigned urine cup, reduces the possibility of user error when performing a clean catch urine collection. Contaminated specimens cost hospitals millions in retesting and missed diagnoses.

“It’s a great joy to see the creation out of this lab,” says Dr. Bon Ku, co-founder and director of the Health Design Lab and Jefferson’s assistant dean for health and design.

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