Pursuing a Dream: 9 Teams Secure Funding to Solve Health Problems

By: Claire Gysegem

Through creativity and collaboration, the University of Pittsburgh brought its finest problem solvers to the 10th annual Pittsburgh Innovation Challenge (PInCh). Earlier this month, Pitt’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) welcomed guests to the Petersen Events Center, where several finalist research teams presented their ideas for projects tackling difficult health issues.

Six grand-prize finalist teams took the stage in front of a panel of judges, while 10 “elevator pitch” finalists presented on video. The grand-prize teams had a hard limit of five minutes for their presentations, while the “elevator pitch” teams had 90 seconds.

“When pitching, it’s about communicating the benefit, not the feature,” said Mel Pirchesky, president of Eagle Ventures, Inc., and one of five judges on the event’s panel. “After the first 30 seconds of your presentation, you want to have people thinking, ‘Tell me more.’”

Pitt’s CTSI bridges the gap between research and medical practice, improving health outcomes for patients in Pittsburgh and all over the planet. Since its inception, PInCh projects have seen over $75 million in investments. The event further reinforces Pittsburgh’s place as a national hub of ingenuity and innovation in the healthcare field.

“This is an event that gives students and faculty the opportunity to pursue a dream,” said Pirchensky. “PInCh provides the structure and entrepreneurial support to make that happen.”

A handful of awards included a “Makers Bonus Award,” which was provided to teams engaging with the Pitt Makerspace through the Swanson School of Engineering.

Each grand-prize finalist team received funds to pursue their research:

BITE Tick Repellant ($115,000*) A green alternative to DEET derived from naturally occurring carbon-binding compounds. Dr. Jill Henning, Dr. Matthew Tracey, Dr. Manisha Nigam and Dr. Luis Bonachea.

AneuRisk ($100,000) An artificial intelligence-based tool to assess the risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm patients that can reduce imaging costs, radiation and prevent adverse outcomes. Dr. Timothy Chung, Dr. David Vorp and Dr. Nathan Liang.

Cerebral Aneurysm Test 7 (CAT-7) ($100,000) A simple blood-based diagnostic test that can detect cerebral aneurysm formation and risk of rupture, opening the door for high-risk screening and early detection. Adi Mittal; Dr. Michael McDowell, Dr. Robert Friedlander and Dr. Daniel A. Wecht.

A-SIDE ($50,000*) A bioengineered Autologous Serum Ocular Insert for Dry Eye Disease, using a patient’s own blood serum proteins to treat dry eye disease with convenience, comfort and efficacy. Dr. Morgan DiLeo and Dr. Vishal Jhanji.

CuffLink ($50,000*) A groundbreaking rotator cuff telehealth rehabilitation platform that combines the safety of mechanical motion exercise equipment with motion tracking and remote monitoring to improve patient recovery. Dr. Kevin M. Bell and Dr. Michael P. McClincy.

Lexi Medical ($35,000) Deep brain stimulation of the motor thalamus after stroke to improve movement in paralyzed or weak facial muscles, resulting in improved speech, breathing and swallowing. Dr. Jordyn E. Ting and Dr. Elvira Pirondini.

Also receiving funding:

Lyme Disease Testing Kit ($30,000*) A better diagnostic test for Lyme disease that is simple, cost-effective and reliable to allow early disease detection and reduce antibiotic misuse. Dr. Danielle Tufts.

One Pass Epidural Needle (OPEN) ($30,000*) A single, simple epidural needle that can be used to place multiple leads or catheters for epidural delivery, eliminating the need for a second skin puncture to minimize pain. Dr. Trent Emerick and Dr. Gaurav Chauhan.

MPower Hub: From Personal Data to Diabetes Health ($25,000) A mobile platform that empowers people to achieve diabetes health by visualizing their combined personal data, helping them transform data insights into healthier diabetes habits. Dr. Carissa Low, Dr. Ann-Marie Rosland and Dr. Timothy M. Bober.

*Denotes Bonus Award recipients.

Journalists interested in learning more can contact mediarelations@upmc.edu.