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DrExcel Health Showcases Student-Driven Innovation

May 12, 2022

By Lisa Ryan

On April 29, multidisciplinary teams of medical and biomedical engineering students from the DrExcel Health student group gathered at Drexel University’s Bossone Research Center to present concepts for innovative medical devices. The event, DrExcel Health Demo Day, marked the student-driven, extracurricular group’s first in-person meeting in two years.

Through DrExcel Health, student teams work during an academic year to design, refine and construct devices that address an unmet need in clinical practice. Medical students expand their knowledge of industry fields that influence clinical practice and learn from the guidance of faculty mentors and their collaboration with biomedical engineering students about product development and the skills needed to bring a medical technology concept to design and market.

Demo Day is a culmination of their yearlong efforts, and DrExcel Health Managing Director Ishaan Bhatt, MD Program Class of 2024, said it was exciting to see students gather and share their work.

DrExcel Health Demo Day 2022

“The event was a success,” Bhatt said. “The teams were finally able to meet in person and present the work they did throughout the year and share their prototypes.”

Bhatt, who designed a product through DrExcel Health in 2021 before moving into a leadership role, was gratified to watch teams’ progress throughout the year. Student teams began by defining a problem in medicine that they might create a device to help solve, then moved on to prototype the device and finally, producing it with the help of a School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems faculty member.

“In addition to their poster presentations, many teams actually brought their devices to Demo Day and showed how they could be used,” Bhatt said. “It was really cool to see that the teams not only worked well together, but to also see the final product.”

This year’s projects tackled such issues as post-operative pain, mobility in patients with Parkinson’s Disease, ankle replacement surgery, Achilles tendon repair, intubation of pediatric patients, pediatric asthma, and liver transplant viability.

DrExcel Health Demo Day 2022

Bhatt said one of DrExcel’s strengths is its interdisciplinary nature, and this year, biomedical engineering students and MD Program students came together for effective collaboration.

“I think both groups of students have the same ultimate goal, and that’s to help patients,” he said. “And there are two perspectives coming together to reach that end goal, where the biomed students have a more technical interest, and the medical students have a more patient-focused interest. The two perspectives combined make for very powerful teams.”

If students needed the perspective of a physician or another scientist as they worked, each team could turn to their faculty advisors. Meera Harhay, MD, MSCE, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology & Hypertension, was one of this year’s advisors on the MD Program side.

DrExcel Health Demo Day 2022

As a transplant physician, Harhay advised students as they created a non-invasive probe that would help provide real-time information about the viability of a liver for transplant. Harhay and the team hope the product could help address a pressing issue in transplant surgery: there are more patients awaiting transplant than there are available, healthy organs.

“One of the barriers to being able to transplant more organs, specifically livers and kidneys, is that there are many organs that are procured for transplant but are discarded due to concerns around poor quality,” Harhay said. “One of the things that we’re trying to do is to improve our ability to assess organs and also to treat organs, to increase the pool of organs that are available for transplant.”

To help the team understand the shape and characteristics of a human liver, students utilized 3D printing to make model organs. They then tested the probe by manipulating different artificial conditions, allowing them to see whether their design worked effectively, Harhay said.

Harhay said being a DrExcel Health faculty mentor has been an exciting opportunity to learn from Drexel’s bioengineering community, and a rewarding way to bring her creativity and clinical experience to projects that could help meet needs in her area of practice.

DrExcel Health Demo Day 2022

“Being able to be part of solutions on a larger scale is an honor,” she said. “I often tell medical students how important it is to advocate for your field and your patients, and part of that is advocating for innovation to improve some of these problems and collaborating with people who can design those solutions.”

DrExcel Health allows MD Program students to be part of a collaborative innovation process before they’ve even left medical school. Harhay said that participating in the student group also exposes students to different career pathways, and to develop skills in interdisciplinary collaboration.

“I think it’s really amazing for them, showing them what’s possible,” she said. “Having them create a multidisciplinary team is a really integral part of what they’ll ultimately end up doing as physicians. Hopefully this inspires more research through a variety of mechanisms, larger-scale work, to be able to see these ideas come to fruition.”

Photos: Gregory Boyek