A pair of ambitious Yale students are leading the way in the development of a complicated surgical procedure and have secured $15,000 in venture capital through VentureWell, a national organization that cultivates student innovation and entrepreneurship.
Andres Ornelas Vargas ’17 and Brandon Hudik ’17 developed the Ballistra Guidewire Advancer — a device that makes surgeries involving the insertion of a catheter into veins safer. According to Vargas, such procedures are often carried out using a technique known as central line placement, which involves the risk of punctures to neighboring arteries and lungs. The use of the predominant technique currently has a 10 percent complication rate, due to the necessity that surgeons use both hands when inserting the tubes.
The development of the device built upon the research of Andrew Crouch ’14, who applied similar technology to procedures involving collapsed lungs.
The Ballistra Guidewire Advancer allows surgeons to insert the necessary catheter using just one hand, freeing the other for ultrasound visualization, which results in safer surgeries. Along with their faculty advisor Steven Tommasini, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine, the team won $15,000 in venture capital through the competition Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams, which is hosted by VentureWell.
According to Vargas and Hudik, their journey was not an easy one: The pair said that several earlier versions of the Ballistra experienced difficulties.
“What you want to build at the beginning will suck,” Vargas, a biomedical engineering major, said.
However, the researchers said that constant persistence allowed them to eventually succeed. Hudik, a mechanical engineering major, emphasized the importance of repeatedly revising their conception of the Ballistra. Hudik said that the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design served as their “incubator space,” and that they often drew on the whiteboard and used the 3-D printing facilities there while developing the product.
But their work will not stop here, Vargas and Hudik said. They are currently focused on additional data acquisition and the publication of the technology associated with the Ballistra in an academic journal. The researchers will also be filing another provisional patent application in the coming days, as well as investigating the potential mass production of the product through changes in its materials.
Tommasini said that the team’s biggest challenges now involve product development and bringing the device to market. He added that Vargas and Hudik are currently working on refining their current prototype, and have reached out to professionals who may find the device useful — physicians, nurses and emergency medical technicians.
According to Tommasini, although the Ballistra device would increase the cost of instrument kits used in central line procedures, but in the long run, physicians using the device would save money due to its increased reliability. He added that preliminary testing of the device supported this.
“When there are fewer errors and mistakes, there are fewer kits the hospital has to buy. Our goal is to eventually license the product, and then use revenue from the license to build the company to [develop] other ideas and products,” Tommasini said.
The researchers and Tommasini shared advice for prospective entrepreneurs.
Hudik said it is necessary for young entrepreneurs to reach out to professionals and talk to those with potential insight into the problem at hand. Vargas acknowledged that speaking to others about entrepreneurial ideas may be difficult, but that the process gets easier with time.
“Seek out help from people who have experience from a number of fields, not only on developing the product but also on the business side,” Tommasini advised.
VentureWell was founded in 1995.