DrExcel Health Project Team Looks Toward the Future
May 23, 2023
By Lisa Ryan
On May 2, multidisciplinary teams of medical and biomedical engineering students from the DrExcel Health student group gathered at Drexel University’s Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building Atrium to present concepts for innovative medical devices. The goal of each team’s concept is to address an unmet need in clinical practice. The event, DrExcel Health Demo Day, is a culmination of yearlong collaboration for members of the student-driven, extracurricular group.
Through DrExcel, student teams work during an academic year to design, refine and construct devices. This year, one of DrExcel’s student teams is looking toward the future, and the possibility of patenting their medical technology project, a pediatric mobility device.
Pramath Nath, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics and a DrExcel faculty mentor, brought his student group a problem he often sees in clinical practice. It’s a common hurdle for children with lower limb injuries: kids aged five to seven don’t have the coordination to use traditional crutches, but existing alternatives have too many drawbacks to be useful to most kids and caregivers.
In that case, explained team member Lauren Wells, MD Program class of 2025, kids’ caregivers often choose to carry them, as the existing alternatives to crutches have too many drawbacks for most children.
“When a caregiver ends up carrying a child who has this type of injury, it’s bad for not only the child’s continued development and ambulation preservation, but also the caregiver’s physical and mental health,” Wells said. “Our design is meant to bridge that gap in mobility of pediatric patients.”
Their project, the Thigh Guide, is a crutch that sits beneath and supports the thigh on a child’s injured leg. With mentorship from Nath and Adrian Shieh, PhD, teaching professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, 10 Drexel students developed the device.
Enhancing pediatric patients’ mobility and independence, as well as their caregivers’ well-being, stuck Nath as a perfect fit for the DrExcel program, in which he has served as a project mentor for five years.
“There are certain issues that I see on a day-to-day basis, and I thought this one would be a good challenge to throw to these really bright undergrad and medical students,” Nath said of the project. “And what a surprise I had this year: the team members devoted so much time. When they started showing me what they’d done, it was mind-boggling.”
Students had to ensure the device was flexible and able to support a child’s full bodyweight. The device also had to be portable, height-adjustable and compatible with different floor types and with use on stairs.
Across DrExcel projects, medical students expand their knowledge of industry fields that influence clinical practice, learn about product development, and the skills needed to bring a medical technology concept to design and market. The group is designed to allow students with different academic backgrounds to learn not only from their faculty mentors, but also from one another.
Undergraduates and medical students brought different areas of expertise to the table as they figured out how the Thigh Guide should work, said Ben Boyarko, MD Program class of 2026. He was grateful for the opportunity to learn from his undergraduate teammates about elements of physics and bioengineering that go into developing a medical device.
Laura Maule, MD Program class of 2025, said the Thigh Guide project will benefit the future physicians, who will often work in multidisciplinary teams.
“It’s been really enriching to work with people who have such a different skillset than we do, and we have been able to learn a lot from the biomedical engineering students,” Maule said. "It’s great to practice working in a multidisciplinary way and to learn to work with people with different perspectives.”
Those different perspectives may have laid the groundwork for a patented device, one used in clinical settings to help patients heal. The process of finalizing a medical device and licensing it for use in clinical settings can take years, Nath said, but the team will file an initial patent application.
Nath hopes to continue developing the Thigh Guide with future teams of MD Program students and undergraduate students and faculty.
“There will be multiple collaborative discussions with the medical and biomedical teams, and once we feel like we have enough information and data points, then the step of getting into the patents will start,” Nath said. “I think it’s a great project, and getting involved in DrExcel gives students a great opportunity to dive in and learn how best to work together in the future.”
Team members from Drexel University College of Medicine also included Mina Ebrahimi, MD Program class of 2026; Kishan Patel, MD Program class of 2025; and Keerthana Srinivasan, MD Program class of 2026. The bioengineering students were Madison White, Nicholas Fioravanti, Lillian Cardonne and Kianna Ly.