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Reunion 2015: Catalyzing innovation and collaboration in medical technology development

June 25, 2015
by Kathleen Frey Raven

Health care inventors who pitch ideas—whether to Silicon Valley venture capitalists or a local philanthropist—need to pass tangible prototypes, not just ideas, around the conference table. So how do you upgrade a health care idea from possible to probable? At Yale, you go to the Center for Biomedical and Interventional Technology (CBIT), Mark Saltzman, Ph.D., told a group of medical school alumni during Reunion on May 30. Since its inception in February 2014, the center has helped more than 100 projects, said Saltzman, CBIT co-founder and the Goizueta Foundation professor of biomedical engineering.

For example, when a nurse noticed how patients’ IV lines constantly get tangled, increasing the risk of administering the wrong medicine, she approached CBIT with a possible solution. CBIT provided seed funding and now she is developing a prototype, said Jean Zheng, Ph.D. '13, CBIT’s engineering director. In another case, a Yale School of Management student diagnosed with a rare skin disease attended a CBIT hackathon and built an app that relies on sophisticated image processing via a smartphone camera to track skin lesions over time. The student called the app “Keep An Eye On It,” and is continuing to develop it, Zheng said.

“Investors want to see that [a project] has been developed to some point, so they have confidence their investment will bring value,” Saltzman said. For projects to do well, they should satisfy two requirements: meet an unmet need and have commercialization potential, he said. To illustrate these factors, Saltzman and Zheng introduced a recent Yale College graduate, and who CBIT has helped to develop his idea into a business by providing mentorship and support.

Levi DeLuke told alumni how he and two other classmates are attempting to revolutionize the treatment of scoliosis for kids and teens via a patented smart strap. DeLuke, who graduated from Yale College in 2014 with a degree in mechanical engineering, explained how the smart straps around the hard plastic brace use embedded sensors to communicate to a smart phone how long the brace is worn each day and how tightly it has been set. A major frustration comes from physicians not knowing exactly how long their patients are wearing their brace, and from patients not having the motivation to wear it. (DeLuke suffered from scoliosis himself and wore a brace for three years.) With this strap, doctors know exactly how long a patient has worn the brace, can update treatment prescriptions accordingly, and parents can assign rewards if kids meet certain milestones. For patients of all ages, the United States spends more than $1 billion on scoliosis surgeries each year, DeLuke said. He and his colleagues have founded a company, called Wellinks, have produced 100 prototypes, and plan to enter their strap into clinical trials later this year. So far, through CBIT and other means, Wellinks has raised $200,000 in funding.

Saltzman and Zheng want to encourage more members of the Yale community to innovate like DeLuke. This year they have partnered with the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation (YCCI) to offer $50,000 awards for the development and commercialization of biomedical innovations. Additionally they will award an inaugural CBIT leadership innovation fellowship for fifth year medical school students.

At least one alumnus wanted to know which metrics Saltzman uses to determine the success of CBIT. “We have developed interest in the community, for sure, and we can measure that,” Saltzman said. For example, he pointed to a more than doubling of participation between two hackathon events held in October 2014 and March 2015. Nearly every day, the center receives inquiries and suggestions for ideas via its website, he said. The CBIT leaders have worked to accomplish much in a short period of time, given that the center has existed for a little more than one year, Saltzman said. He pointed out that similar centers, like Biodesign at Stanford University, and the University of Minnesota’s Medical Devices Center, have existed for more than 10 years.

After the presentation, alumni gathered in the medical library’s Beaumont Room to speak with Zheng and Saltzman about their ideas for potential breakthrough products. Among some of the ideas suggested: an electronic check-in station at doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospitals to avoid waiting in line and maintain confidentiality, and a computer-guided needle that would make drawing blood and administering information foolproof. If alumni wanted to get involved with CBIT, what could they do?

Saltzman and Zheng said alumni can help by mentoring project teams, funding, advising CBIT on the latest trends and developments in health care and technology, giving lectures and workshops to educate and inspire biomedical innovators, and attending and/or volunteering at CBIT events. For more information, please contact, or visit their website at

Submitted by Tiffany Penn on June 26, 2015