Kai Nip, Staff Photographer

A team of recent Yale alumni received a $30,000 prize from the CT Innovations Biopipeline Fund to continue developing a new medical device and to pursue a patent.

The team of students — comprised of Kyle Almquist ’20, Shelby Meckstroth SPH ’20, Trevor Chan ’20, Nicholas Szabo ’20 and Stephanie Blas-Lizarazo ’20 — enrolled in Yale’s Medical Device Design and Innovation class, BENG/MENG 404, last semester and created a new device to treat traumatic foot fractures. The course was co-taught by Steven Tommasini, a researcher at the Yale School of Medicine, and assistant professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation Daniel Wiznia.

The prize is awarded by the CT Innovations Biopipeline Fund — a joint effort funded by Yale University, the University of Connecticut and Quinnipiac University, as well as Connecticut Innovations and the Bioscience Innovation Fund.

“We designed a hand-held surgical tool that allows for fine angular control of bones in distraction and compression,” Chan said. “This device will give surgeons improved access to the fracture site and will make it easier to align bones in the desired orientation for fixation.”

According to their website, the CT Innovations Biopipeline Fund is a “$1 million, two-year initiative [that] provides up to $30,000 per project of much-needed gap funding to seedling companies or faculty and student groups associated with any Connecticut university.” The team from Yale was awarded the maximum amount.

They began the project in BENG/MENG 404, “a design-based course where students evaluate real-world clinical problems and conceptualize, design, and prototype medical devices to improve patient outcomes,” according to the class description in Yale’s course catalog.

The team decided to design a surgical tool to treat traumatic foot injuries after learning about the need for this type of device from surgeons at Yale New Haven Hospital. According to an email from Chan to the News, these injuries account for about 40 percent of “lower extremity fractures” and require comprehensive treatment.

“[The course] provided us a foundation in CAD software like Solidworks and a conceptual framework to design a device that met this clinical need,” Szabo wrote in an email to the News. “This prize will enable us to produce 3D-printed (and eventually full-metal) prototypes of the device, refine its design, and submit a patent application.”

While the course provided students with access to the tools at the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design and knowledge from lecture, the students additionally benefited from the mentorship of faculty at the Yale School of Medicine, such as their surgical advisors, orthopedic surgeons Brad Yoo and Matthew Riedel.

Although the team lost access to the CEID and other Yale resources when the University switched to online instruction in March due to COVID-19, Wiznia told the News he was “very impressed” with the team’s ability to continue their work on the project.

“What proved even more helpful, especially as classes transitioned online, was the continued guidance and connections available to us through the course teaching staff,” Chan wrote. “Since beginning this project, we’ve spoken to orthopedic surgeons, device manufacturers, employees at the hospital, and patent lawyers. … Their combined input transformed the project from an initial rough idea to a marketable medical device.”

The team will continue prototyping and will pursue a patent for their design with assistance from the prize money. In addition to the award, the team also received $1,000 in funding from the Rothberg Catalyzer Prototype Fund sponsored by the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale.

The team’s next steps include entering into conversations with medical device manufacturers who could make and distribute these instruments as well as consulting orthopedic surgeons.

“This award is just validation of their hard work and clever design,” Tommasini told the News. “I really think their device will have a significant impact in the OR. … We hope this grant is just the beginning in securing more funds as we develop the device.”

The Connecticut Bioscience Innovation Fund will invest $200 million in projects over the next 10 years.

Erin Bailey | erin.bailey@yale.edu