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Student Project Leads to Medical Device Start-Up

InfraVein device

InfraVein device (University of Texas, San Antonio)

7 April 2017. A group of engineering and business students developing an imaging device that quickly finds veins for blood draws is starting a company to take the device to market. The undergraduate team at University of Texas in San Antonio is also receiving a $50,000 grant from National Science Foundation as part of the agency’s Innovation-Corps, or I-Corps, program to help researchers become entrepreneurs.

The idea for the device called InfraVein grew out of senior class engineering design project, where the 4 biomedical engineering and 4 business students discovered a need to help clinicians find veins in patients for venipuncture procedures, or taking blood for donations or samples. In some individuals, finding a vein is not a problem, but for infants, or people who are obese or with dark skin pigments, finding a vein is more difficult. In addition, emergency medical technicians and battlefield medics often need to find veins under less than ideal conditions.

In San Antonio, military medical applications are well known, given the city’s large military community. The students consulted physicians at San Antonio Military Medical Center and the university’s Department of Emergency Medicine as part of the project. The group also discovered the device could have uses other than taking blood samples, such as catheter insertions.

The InfraVein web site cites data indicating that 13 percent of patients in venipuncture procedures need multiple attempts for a successful blood draw, which translates into some 156 million cases each year. At an estimated cost of $4.25 per draw, that number of additional procedures is costing the U.S. health care system about $663 million annually.

The student entrepreneurs are aiming for InfraVein to fill a gap between expensive high-end systems in medical centers and cheap devices that the students say are unreliable. InfraVein uses an infrared camera that sends beams to the target area. While the skin and fat tissue reflect the infrared rays, veins absorb the beams making them stand out in greater contrast. The system produces a real-time video highlighting the locations of veins and their depth in surrounding tissue, as well as factors such as rolling or movement of veins that can impede access.

The San Antonio Business Journal says the students started a company called Omnibus Medical to take InfraVein to market. The group pitched InfraVein and their business plans a year ago in an annual student technology venture competition, put on by the university’s Center for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship, or CITE. Omnibus Medical took first place in the competition, and the lion’s share of the $100,000 prize money.

The students, through CITE, are receiving a $50,000 award from National Science Foundation that includes participation in I-Corps, an NSF program that helps science and technology entrepreneurs get their companies off the ground. I-Corps incubation helps start-ups evaluate the commercial viability of their proposed products or services, create a plan for further development of the technology, and demonstrate the technology to potential partners.

Two of the UT-San Antonio students plan to attend an I-Corps seminar in Boston in April — Sanjiv Patel, now a masters degree candidate in biomedical engineering and Kreg Zimmern, a 2016 bachelor’s graduate. “With this opportunity in Boston,” says Patel in a university statement, “I hope to experience how to interact with different customer segments and to use their feedback in order to develop our technology further.”

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