On April 20, a group of five senior bioengineering majors competed in the Fox School of Business's 25th Annual Be Your Own Boss Bowl; the next day, on April 21, the team presented for the College of Engineering's Spring 2023 Senior Design competition.
The Senior Design team — Eesha Thakur, Sydney Reid, Zoe Wevodau, Joshua Pletcher and Hetavi Patel — placed first in both events.
"We were just kind of shocked the entire time," Thakur said. "But we were very happy with the outcome."
The team picked up their Senior Design assignment from their advisor Dr. James Furmato's thesis research and focused on developing the Portable System for Dynamic Assessment of Microvascular Function, or the NIRVA Device.
The device is a preventative measure that offers a point-of-care metric to track the progression of arterial insufficiency in people with diabetes. It functions by stopping the blood flow in a person's finger for a few seconds, and then, when it releases the pressure, it calculates the time it takes for the blood to re-enter the tissue.
"That's a key metric that doctors can use to see how at-risk you are for developing ulcers," Thakur said.
Currently, very limited preventative and accessible diagnostics exist for the 37 million Americans with diabetes at risk for severe complications from arterial insufficiency, including foot ulcerations, lower extremity amputations and even death.
Dr. Furmato previously developed a device similar to the NIRVA Device, but his model used Laser Doppler velocimetry, which tends to be expensive, and was about the size of a "mini bridge," so the team knew they needed to improve its accessibility.
"Our goal was to make a more affordable version of that and a more portable version of that," Wevodau said.
They accomplished the goal by using near-infrared spectroscopy, a more affordable alternative to Dr. Furmato's design, and drastically shrinking the device. The NIRVA Device would be marketed to primary care physicians to be used for multiple patients, costing less than $200 compared to competing designs of more than half a million dollars.
The group spent a lot of time meeting on Zoom and at Reid's house developing their project. They each played essential roles in the team, constantly collaborating, but also unintentionally falling into their own niches.
While Pletcher was working with the stepper motor and the device housing, Thakur put together the user interface with her "Matlab genius mind" and Wevodau worked with the near-infrared spectroscopy circuit. Reid ensured all assignments were turned in on time, including their 63-page final for the Senior Design Project class, and Patel handled the financial aspects of the Be Your Own Boss Bowl, which is unfamiliar territory for many engineering majors.
"It was definitely really difficult," Reid said. "There were times where we were like, "I don't even know what this means.'"
Of course, their success demonstrates the team eventually figured out the business side of their project. With their winnings, they have the opportunity to move forward with their design.
The NIRVA device currently exists as a prototype, still in its early stages, and will need to go through a couple of years of clinical trials, FDA approval and various other steps toward hitting the market.
The team hasn't officially decided whether they will pursue the device beyond graduation, but if they do, winning the Be Your Own Boss Bowl has already granted them $20,000 to fund their project.
"Throughout the year we've all gotten really passionate about this project as we've got it to actually start working and design a prototype," Thakur said. "So I feel like just having the money there is encouraging for us because if we do want to take it past graduation, we do have the opportunity to do it now, which is really awesome."
This winning team is also set to have their project and summary on display at the Franklin Institute later this summer. This is a high honor and will allow people from all over the world to see their hard work.