Skip to Content

AssistENT wins $10,000 ‘Use It!’ Lemelson-MIT Student Prize

May 2, 2018

Team AssistENT is composed of five biomedical engineering undergraduate students at Johns Hopkins University who are on a mission to improve the quality of life for sufferers of chronic nasal obstruction. The students were inspired to find a solution after interviewing patients and shadowing Patrick Byrne, professor and director of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery for JHU’s School of Medicine.

The team realized that their combined skill sets could be used to create an effective solution to this common problem, which happens to personally affect some of them, as well as many of their family members. With this motivation, they invented the N-Stent Breathing Aid. Designed as an over-the-counter intranasal dilator intended for use throughout the day, at night, and even during exercise, N-Stent achieves the same effect as nasal reconstructive surgery without the embarrassment and discomfort associated with existing products, which are intended only as sleep aids. For developing this innovative device, the team won the 2018 $10,000 “Use it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.

Melissa Austin grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, and is AssistENT’s clinical liaison, responsible for coordinating with partner physicians to conduct patient surveys and develop human testing protocols for Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. She has held numerous clinical research assistant positions at JHU, and spent a summer at the Morristown Medical Center Department of Surgery in New Jersey, observing surgeons, interacting with patients, and co-writing a poster presentation abstract and paper with a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. She has also interned with Bristol Myers-Squibb, where she gained experience with medical device development and usability. Outside of the classroom, Melissa is the president of Jail Tutorial, a student group in Baltimore that provides GED and financial literacy tutoring to adults and juveniles in jails, prisons, and post-release facilities. Melissa will graduate from JHU in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering.

Eric Cao grew up in Torrance, California, and draws from his experience with market research analysis to support AssistENT’s business development efforts by performing in-depth market analyses, surveying relevant medical research, and evaluating the patent landscape. Eric also supports the team’s testing and prototyping efforts. He began his engineering trajectory when he was a senior in high school, working as a lead mechanical engineer in his Engineering Design and Development class, creating CAD models and performing rapid prototyping. He is currently a commercialization intern for Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, where he composes market analyses for proposed inventions and creates visualizations of data for quantitative analysis. He is also a research assistant in the Haptics and Medical Robotics Lab. Eric is a sophomore at JHU with a double major in biomedical engineering and computer science.

Talia Kirschbaum grew up in Stow, Massachusetts. She spearheads AssistENT’s product design efforts and is responsible for creating and evaluating computer models to conceptualize new iterations of the nasal dilator technology. Talia has participated in the Harvard Undergraduate Immunology Summer Program, conducting neuroimmunology research. She also worked as a research assistant at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the Mao Research Group, studying and developing nanoparticles for vaccine delivery. She now works in a clinical radiation oncology lab analyzing brain tumor images. She plays an active extracurricular role on campus, leading tours for prospective JHU students and families, and interviewing and evaluating prospective students. She is also a member of the Johns Hopkins Undergraduate Consulting Club, helping undergraduates learn more about consulting as a career track. In her community, she volunteers for Thread, mentoring Baltimore high school students who are struggling both academically and personally. Talia is currently a junior, majoring in biomedical engineering and minoring in applied mathematics.

Theodore Lee grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and went to Liberty High School, where he was the salutatorian of his graduating class. He leverages his marketing experience to support AssistENT’s business development efforts, responsible for creating and maintaining the team’s website, animations, graphics, and social media accounts. Theodore was a business development intern at CS Koida LLC, where he managed the company’s Search Engine Optimization strategy and assisted in their website development and design efforts. He is the Director of MedHacks, the world’s premier hackathon, leading a 50-student team, focusing on all promotional and design efforts, and spearheading corporate relationships with leading healthcare and biotech companies. Theodore is currently an associate at A-Level Capital where he supports JHU entrepreneurs through early stage funding, focusing on sourcing deals and conducting diligence on startups. He is interning at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association this summer as a Clinical Business Development Intern where he will leverage data science to address social determinants of health (transportation, pharmacy, nutrition, and fitness deserts). Theodore is a sophomore at JHU with a double major in biomedical engineering and applied math and statistics.

Harrison Nguyen is from Miami, Florida, and leads AssistENT’s bench testing efforts, developing protocols and rigs to verify the functionality and safety of N-Stent prototypes. He is a research assistant in the Johns Hopkins Neuroengineering Laboratory, where he develops and evaluates upper limb prosthetic systems. He was a summer research assistant for the SINAPSE Institute at the National University of Singapore, and has worked as a teaching assistant for introductory Physics classes at JHU. Furthermore, Harrison participates as a student leader in PILOT (Peer-led Team Learning), a tutoring program that provides academic assistance to students in a collaborative learning environment. He also spent a summer shadowing the research and development team at Tissue Tech, gaining experience with various research protocols and procedures. He is currently a senior and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and electrical engineering in May 2018.

Team AssistENT also recently won the grand prize at the Tulane Business Model Competition worth $25,000.

Read the Johns Hopkins University privacy statement here.