Five College of Engineering Researchers Win Kudos in Health Tech Challenge
Five researchers associated with the College of Engineering (CoE) have helped launch startup companies that won top prizes and acknowledgements at the Lever’s Western Massachusetts Health Tech Challenge, hosted by the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) and judged by a panel of experts. See IALS Startups Win Top Prizes at Lever’s Western Massachusetts Health Tech Challenge.
The CoE-affiliated researchers include Ph.D. candidate Anujan Ramesh of the Biomedical Engineering (BME) Department, undergraduate senior Connor MacFarlane of the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department, BME Research Professor Gottfried Schlaug, former BME Senior Postdoctoral Researcher Anant Shinde, and Assistant Professor Govind Srimathveeravalli of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department.
Ramesh is the CEO and co-founder of Quaesar Therapeutics, which won the second-place award of $25,000 in the Health Tech Challenge. Quaesar Therapeutics is developing a non-invasive blood test that can screen for ovarian cancer significantly earlier than current clinical standards.
After presenting the technology to the judges and accepting the $25,000 award, Ramesh said that “This is huge. We really need money to make the idea happen, [and] we believe in the idea.”
As Ramesh explained about his research in the lab of Assistant Professor Ashish Kulkarni of the ChE department (and adjunct in BME), “I’m interested primarily in the field of immuno-engineering, and my research briefly focuses on designing novel biomaterials that can modulate the body’s immune responses to combat disease.”
The other four CoE contestants were affiliated with startups that were runners-up in the Health Tech Challenge. They include MacFarlane, whose startup is called MacFarlane Medical and is producing an improved insulin delivery port developed by his own research.
As MacFarlane explained, “MacFarlane Medical is working to simplify insulin delivery for people whose lives are being unnecessarily burdened by the difficulties of diabetes management. We are working to develop a wearable drug delivery port that eliminates the need for frequent injections or complicated and expensive pumping systems.”
Another runner-up was TBD Medical, which is pitching a pioneering prostate cancer diagnostic technology created through research led by Srimathveeravalli. As he explained, “We have established a medical device and technology for minimally invasive collection of biological samples representing an entire tumor or large tissue volume.”
Another runner-up was Brainify, a startup developing a high-dose, noninvasive brain stimulation device platform to improve neurological dysfunctions coupled with a platform that develops predictions of outcome and therapy response, being developed by Schlaug and Shinde. Shinde explained that “Dose of non-invasive brain-stimulation is an increasingly important variable in any therapeutic intervention. We have developed a high-dose stimulator device that has the potential to make a difference for several disorders and impairments, including depression, tinnitus, epilepsy, and recovery from a stroke.”
Emily Melzer, a former Ph.D. student in the UMass Microbiology Department, is the co-founder and CEO of Latde Diagnostics, which received the top prize of $50,000 by offering a low-cost test to determine which specific antibiotic will be effective in patients with sepsis.
All five of the finalist companies have received support from the IALS at UMass, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center’s most significant capital investment. Melzer, Ramesh, MacFarlane, and Shinde have also participated in I-Corps@UMass Amherst training. (April 2023)