WMU student invention wins $10,000 Lemelson-MIT 'Cure it!' prize | Health
A Western Michigan University senior and a recent graduate are the winners of a prestigious national prize for their life-saving, low-cost invention, NeoVent, a respiratory support device designed to treat critically ill infants in developing nations.
The Lemelson-MIT Program today announced that new WMU alumnus Stephen John of Portage, Michigan, and senior Joseph Barnett of Kalamazoo, Michigan, are among the winners of the Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize Competition, a nationwide search for the most inventive team of undergraduate and individual graduate students. The Lemelson-MIT Program awarded $65,000 in prizes for inventions in the healthcare, transportation, food and agriculture, and consumer device spaces.
Each winning team of undergraduates received $10,000, and each graduate student winner received $15,000. The winners of this year’s competition were selected from a diverse and highly competitive applicant pool of students from 28 colleges and universities across the country.
"This year's Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize Competition winners are inventors who recognize pressing issues and are pioneering concepts that will translate into impactful solutions," says Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program.
"Their work is as remarkable as their passion to mentor and inspire creative thinking among youth."
Prizes are awarded in the following categories:
• "Cure it!" for students with inventions that can improve healthcare
• "Drive it!" for students with inventions that can that can improve transportation
• "Eat it!" for students with inventions that can that can improve food and agriculture
• "Use it!" for students with inventions that can improve consumer devices and tools
Barnett and John, who each studied biomedical sciences at WMU and plan to pursue medical degrees, took home the $10,000 "Cure it!" prize for NeoVent.
"I was very surprised when I heard the news," Barnett says. "My thoughts were a mix of gratitude and excitement--gratitude to all of the people who helped us, especially Dr. Laura Hastings (assistant professor of political science and interim director of the global and international studies program), who graciously spent countless hours reviewing drafts with me, and Dr. Peter Gustafson (associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering), our advisor and mentor. I was most excited about the credibility that this award will provide our project, hopefully getting us closer to saving lives."
John and Barnett teamed up to create NeoVent after John learned from a Respiratory Therapists Without Borders official about the need for a low-cost medical device that could deliver biphasic positive airway pressure ventilation to prevent lung collapse in premature babies experiencing respiratory distress in hospitals lacking the costly medical equipment that typically provides this life-saving therapy.
Babies born preterm sometimes have underdeveloped lungs and need some degree of respiratory life support. But, due to expense, ventilation equipment commonly available in developing nations is not always readily available in medical centers in underserved parts of the world. Lessons learned abroad motivated Barnett and John to ensure medical centers in developing countries are well equipped.
John grew up in Nepal and returns every summer to volunteer at the United Mission Hospital in Tansen. He is currently in Nepal helping to repair medical equipment in a biomedical department as well as preparing for clinical trials of NeoVent. In May, he graduated summa cum laude from WMU with two undergraduate degrees--one in biomedical studies and another in mechanical engineering. Later this summer, he begins medical school at the University of Michigan.
Barnett started working with students in Honduras after hearing of a shortage of teachers there. He has been to Honduras six times in the past five years, where he has driven school buses, led clothing donation efforts and volunteered in a local hospital, also fixing medical equipment. He plans to volunteer as a teacher in Honduras for one year before attending medical school.
"During our time at these low-resource settings, we were able to see that in order for medical devices to have high impact they not only have to be simple, but they also have to be resilient," Barnett says.
They began working on the device more than a year and a half ago in John's home, and spent months refining it in Gustafson's lab in WMU's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. What they ultimately developed is simple, energy efficient, safe and inexpensive. They estimate that NeoVent
will be priced at around $25 versus the thousands of dollars a ventilator costs.
"I am really excited. It's so fulfilling to see our device reach this point from its humble beginnings in my basement, " John says. "We're really grateful for the support we've received from Western as well as other individuals in the Kalamazoo community. We couldn't have reached this point without them. Hopefully this brings us one step closer our ultimate goal of saving neonatal lives. "
Lemelson-MIT applicants were evaluated by screening committees with expertise in the inventive categories as well as a national judging panel of industry leaders. The same panel also selects a mid-career inventor as the winner of an annual $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. Screeners and judges assessed all candidates on the breadth and depth of inventiveness and creativity; potential for societal benefit and economic commercial success; community and environmental systems impact; and experience as a role model for youth.
The competition, supported by the Lemelson Foundation, builds on the legacy of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, which has served as a springboard for collegiate inventors for 20 years.
The Lemelson-MIT prize isn’t the first support the WMU pair has garnered for NeoVent. The team won a Research and Creative Activities Award from Lee Honors College, and they were a part of WMU’s student business accelerator, Starting Gate. Starting Gate helped them set goals, develop a business plan, meet regularly with mentors, attend workshops and pitch to investors.
"Winning the Lemelson-MIT award is a very prestigious recognition for the innovative product Stephen and Joseph have created," says Dr. Kay Palan, dean of the Haworth College of Business. The college's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation operates Starting Gate.
"This award caps off a year in which several Starting Gate accelerator students have received patents, recognitions, and financial awards and support for their entrepreneurial efforts. It’s very gratifying to help these young people develop ideas and products that have the potential to positively impact their communities and society. "
About the Lemelson-MIT Program
The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding inventors and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention. Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history’s most prolific inventors, and his wife, Dorothy, founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by the Lemelson Foundation and administered by the School of Engineering at MIT, an institution with a strong ongoing commitment to creating meaningful opportunities for K-12 STEM education.
About the Lemelson Foundation
Based in Portland, the Lemelson Foundation uses the power of invention to improve lives. Inspired by the belief that invention can solve many of the biggest economic and social challenges of our time, the foundation helps the next generation of inventors and invention-based businesses to flourish. To date, the foundation has made grants totaling more than $185 million in support of its mission. For more information, visit lemelson.org.