By Jason Perry for BioLawToday.org
On April 9, 2018, students from the University of Utah took the state capitol building by storm for the 8th annual Bench to Bedside competition. This competition helps students take their education outside of the classroom and work to improve healthcare in Utah and abroad. It was founded in 2010 when a group of students wanted a more hands-on approach to their education. Students and faculty then combined efforts to find donors and set off a competition that would help many students to develop new technologies, form companies, and make a positive impact on healthcare.
This year’s competition was particularly interesting as the competition took a step forward by adding teams from universities all across Utah including Utah State University, Weber State University, Utah Valley University, Southern Utah University, and Brigham Young University. The competition also featured teams from two local high schools: Rowland Hall High School and Juan Diego High School. Fifty-nine teams competed this year and were divided into three different categories: (1) traditional teams composed of university students; (2) legacy teams featuring devices that competed previously and returned to compete again; and (3) young entrepreneur teams comprised of high school students.
During the course of the school year, competitors identify a medical pain point, form multi-disciplinary teams from across the different colleges at their university, develop a solution to the problem, and work with mentors to bring the dream to life. Such an experience provides students valuable connections to industry leaders, and the program includes a budget to help teams build prototypes and file provisional patents to protect their ideas. Teams work for countless hours with hopes to cash-in at competition night where over $150,000 worth of prize money is awarded to teams in different categories. Prizes include milestone funding, legal support, a year at a business incubator, and even an opportunity to travel to outside the United States to better develop a device to be used in developing countries.
Teams are judged based on a competition packet, which includes a description of their project, market projections, and business plans. They also submit a three-minute pitch video to where they would market their device to judges and potential investors. The last leg of judging occurs on competition night, where each team presents their devices to judges, investors, and the population at large.
As a LABS Fellow, I worked with a couple different teams to participate in workshops and draft provisional patent applications under the supervision of a faculty member. Throughout the year, I met with many teams and would see their design concepts; however, it was not until competition night that I saw many of these devices in action.
For example, SitUp—a traditional team—developed a device that is an affordable alternative to adjustable beds. The team developed this device after one member had to take care of an elderly family member with limited mobility. The device works by being placed on a bed and uses a hydraulic system to adjust the position of the patient. This in turn improves patient care by returning some control to the patients themselves and facilitates patient care more easily. After working with this team the past year, I’ve been impressed by the passion the members have and the amount of work they have invested into the competition.
One thing that was especially gratifying to see was one of the teams I worked with during 2017-18 academic year compete again this year as a Legacy team. I was excited to see them at competition night still working to bring their device to market. Team Veiser found an innovative solution to treat varicose veins. As of now, current treatment methods include sclerotherapy and radio frequency ablation. However, both of these systems have their downsides, such as the need for local anesthesia that increases the duration and cost of the procedure. Or, if just a sclerosant is used, it requires a large volume of chemical that can lead to blood clots or ulcers. This team developed a device that may be inserted into the vein, the tip can be expanded to alter the shape of the vein, thus reducing the cross-sectional area while maximizing the surface contact of the sclerosant. This device also allows the clinician to reduce the amount of sclerosant needed to treat varicose veins. As varicose veins are a common ailment, this would allow patients to receive care with reduced risks and without the need of anesthesia.
Smooth Stop was a high school team I worked with to draft a provisional patent. They worked to develop a braking system for the wheelchair. I was impressed by the drive to attempt to tackle a difficult problem and build a working prototype, not something typical high school students are able to accomplish. Smooth Stop recognized that wheelchair users have difficulty operating the wheelchair over uneven terrain and one major problem is that wheelchairs frequently do not have brakes. Although the user may use their hands to reduce speed, this is dangerous and may cause injuries to the user’s skin and fingers. These young innovators developed a system to install disc brakes on a wheelchair and thus granting the user the ability to stop the wheelchair without putting their skin and fingers at risk.
These devices are just a small sampling of the technologies that were developed over the course of the year through the Bench to Bedside program and presented on competition night. The Center for Medical Innovation at the University of Utah and the campus in general are pushing to improve healthcare by unlocking the ingenuity and work ethic of university students. This program has a successful track record of helping teams to develop new devices and bring those devices to market.
The program also allows students to gain valuable hands-on experience that is necessary for them to compete today’s world. Through this program, I had opportunities to work with many teams and draft thirteen provisional patent applications. I’m impressed by the creativity of the solutions and the prototypes many teams were able to develop in such a short period of time. In addition, the program allowed me to see how the law is applied to different people in different circumstances. I learned about what areas of the law could benefit from further attention to give a more equitable outcome and a better result for all people involved.
Jason is a third-year law student at S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. As a LABS fellow, he works with the Center for Medical Innovation helping the participants in the Bench 2 Bedside competition prepare provisional patent applications. Jason received a Bachelor’s and a Master’s of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Utah State University. Prior to entering law school, Jason worked as an engineer designing material handling systems for bulk storage facilities. He came to law school to help engineers and inventors with their unique legal problems. After law school he plans to practice intellectual property law.