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BME undergrad entrepreneurs win 2015 Retail Health & Innovation Competition

November 18, 2015
A group of students hold a giant check.

A team of eight Johns Hopkins undergraduate biomedical engineering students were awarded first place by judges of the 2015 Retail and Health Innovation Challenge held at Wake Forest University School of Business in Winston-Salem, NC. Their specialized surgical device, Separatec, was designed to minimize the risk of leaking spinal fluid in the thin membrane surrounding nerves in the spinal column, especially when scar tissue from previous surgeries is present.

Ten teams of top entrepreneurial talent from universities and colleges were selected for this year’s challenge to compete for more than $30,000 in prizes. Competing student teams had to strategically communicate and pitch their innovations to senior-level executives from the front lines of industry.

The Johns Hopkins University BME undergraduate students — Haley Huang, Tom Catullo, Barbara Kim, Stephen Johannesson, Esteban Urias, Eric Chiang, Anshul Subramanya, and Tony Sun — presented the Separatec spinal surgical instrument tip, as their solution to reducing dural tears. dural tears occur in over 63,000 spinal surgeries each year — and result in cerebrospinal fluid leaks. This serious clinical complication extends patient hospitalization by 3 to 5 days and requires revision spinal surgery. The financial burden on the U.S. healthcare system is estimated to be around $375 million annually. They were awarded first place and presented a check in the amount of $25,000 for the win.

The team’s specialized surgical instrument tip, Separatec, is a safe yet powerful option for surgeons working in the epidural space of the spine. “Imagine trying to cut a steak next to a water balloon,” said team member Eric Chiang. He explained that their uniquely shaped surgical tip respects the geometry of the spine while providing surgeons the power to cut through scar tissue by utilizing ultrasonic energy, sharp lateral edges, the safety of a its dulled distal edge, and an irrigation-cooling system.

The young biomedical engineers founded BHEST Medical, LLC in 2015. The company has been focused on designing and developing Separatec in collaboration with neurosurgeons and industry experts across the country.

BHEST Medical has received numerous awards and accolades including:

Their former advisor, Dr. Robert Allen said, “The team lead by Haley Huang was the first in design team history to have established a limited liability corporation (LLC) in the Fall semester.  They have been business minded since the project started.”

The Department of Biomedical Engineering congratulates the BHEST Medical team on their successes.

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