NIH announces winners of 2022 DEBUT Challenge

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August 26, 2022
Jessica Meade

The National Institutes of Health announced the winners of the 11th annual Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams (DEBUT) Challenge with prizes totaling $130,000. NIH and VentureWell named nine winning teams and five honorable mentions that designed technology solutions to unmet health care needs. 

The DEBUT Challenge, initiated and led by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), was also supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), the NIH Office of AIDS Research (OAR), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), all parts of NIH—along with VentureWell, a non-profit higher-education network that supports science and technology innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education. The prizes will be presented during the annual Biomedical Engineering Society conference held Oct. 12-15, 2022.

A photo a black box attached to a pulse oximeter attached to a finger.
A photo of the EquinOx device.

“With every new DEBUT Challenge, I am inspired by the creativity and ingenuity of young engineers from across the country,” said Bruce Tromberg, Ph.D., NIBIB director. “From projects that tackle bias in medical devices to bringing affordable and easy-to-use testing to underserved communities, student design projects are helping our community engineer the future of health.”

The winning diagnostic projects improve skin color biases in tests of blood oxygen saturation, identify Group B Streptococcus more accurately, measure cervical stiffness as a warning for pre-term birth, improve electrocardiograms (EKGs) for children, and diagnose tuberculosis faster and more cheaply than traditional methods. Therapeutic projects include a device to protect the brain post-surgery, artificial intelligence-guided physical therapy, a male contraceptive, and a spoon to help patients with Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor.

“Supporting the next generation of researchers is essential to the sustainability and continued progress of scientific discovery,” said Maureen M. Goodenow, Ph.D., director of OAR. “The NIH Office of AIDS Research is pleased to support the DEBUT Challenge to nurture the spirit of inquiry and innovation that fueled this year’s submissions, including POCAS:TB. Developed by students at Northwestern University, this creative diagnostic approach could improve testing for tuberculosis, one of the leading causes of death among people with HIV, especially in low-resource settings.”

DEBUT received 73 applications from 43 universities in 19 states, four countries (United States, Canada, China, and Syria), engaging a total of 456 students this year.

The winning projects are as follows:

NIBIB “Steven H. Krosnick” First Prize ($20,000): EquinOx, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
The EquinOx attempts to mitigate the bias that most pulse oximeters exhibit by failing to account for differing patient skin tones. Using new hardware that measures both skin tone as well as raw pulse oximeter data with a newly developed algorithm, the EquinOx is better able to estimate blood oxygen saturation.

NIBIB Second Prize ($15,000): Ampliphage, Stanford University, Stanford, California
The Ampliphage is an affordable, easy-to-use diagnostic tool that can detect Group B Streptococcus in low-resource settings. At 3% of the cost of current tests, it can be used in areas that cannot afford the more expensive tests and help to decrease infant mortality rates worldwide.

A diagram of the slide and two black squares, one with bright green glowing dots.
An image of the POCAS: TB slide showing a negative result (i) and a positive result (ii).

NIBIB Third Prize ($10,000): CERV, Columbia University, New York City
CERV is designed to monitor the risk of preterm birth by quantifying cervical stiffness without the use of a speculum in lower-resource clinical settings.

NIH OAR Prize for HIV/AIDS ($15,000): Point-Of-Care Automated Stainer for Tuberculosis Diagnostics (POCAS: TB), Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
POCAS: TB can perform acid-fast sputum smear microscopy stains to identify TB. It uses components of a standard 3D printer to reproduce the stain procedures in a timely and consistent manner, offering low- and middle-income countries a faster and cheaper way to test for one of the leading causes of death among people with HIV.

NIMHD Prize for Low-Resource Settings ($15,000): HappyHeart, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis
This HappyHeart is a cost-effective innovative 3D-printed approach to pediatric diagnostic EKGs in clinical settings that will increase comfort, be easier to use, and reduce costs.

NCI Cancer Prize ($15,000): Neurosafe, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York
The Neurosafe skull fixation device provides the structural support needed to protect the vulnerable brain after operation while incorporating movement to accommodate brain swelling and subsequent shrinkage.

National Center for Medical Rehabilitation, NICHD Prize for Assistive/Rehabilitative Technologies ($15,000): Yoomi, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
Yoomi is an AI-driven physical therapy platform that uses computer vision to provide patients with real-time feedback on their exercise form and provides health care professionals with exercise data and insights to optimize treatment.

A series of three images including a diagram of two syringes with light and dark blue liquid, a diagram of a blue cylinder shown inside and outside of the vas deferens, and a diagram showing two versions of the vas deferens with only traces of the blue cylinder left.
A diagram showing the steps to use the EMIT contraceptive device.

VentureWell Venture Prize ($15,000): EMIT Male Contraceptive: Arizona State University, Tempe
EMIT is a minimally invasive alternative male contraceptive. It utilizes an injectable hydrogel and chemical deactivator composite system that provides a completely reversible, double barrier to sperm movement past the vas deferens.

VentureWell Design Excellence Prize ($5,000): SteadiSpoon, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, and the University of Oklahoma, Norman
The SteadiSpoon is an affordable, self-stabilizing eating device to help patients with Parkinson’s disease and essential tremors to regain agency and autonomy in their lives for almost a quarter of the cost of the market-leading motorized solutions.

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About the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB): NIBIB’s mission is to engineer the future of health by leading the development and accelerating the application of biomedical technologies. The Institute is committed to integrating engineering and physical science with biology and medicine to advance our understanding of disease and its prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment. NIBIB supports emerging technology research and development within its internal laboratories and through grants, collaborations, and training. More information is available at the NIBIB website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): The National Institutes of Health, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit https://www.nih.gov/