Clemson bioengineering team wins second place in ACC design contest

A team of five women bioengineering students from Clemson University has won second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference InVenture Prize competition, in which teams of undergraduates representing each ACC university pitched their inventions or businesses before a live audience and a panel of judges.

The team collaborated with bioengineering design mentors and neurosurgeons at Prisma Health to invent a device, named the CatheSure, that detects hydrocephalus shunt malfunctions in children.

Hydrocephalus is fluid buildup in the cavities of the brain. The excess fluid increases the size of the ventricles and puts pressure on the brain. More than one million Americans suffer from the condition. The most common treatment is the surgical insertion of a drainage system, or shunt. Unfortunately, these shunts have a 70 percent failure rate, with 40 percent failing in the first year — and the symptoms of a shunt failure are often vague, usually similar to the common flu. Currently, the only way for doctors to diagnose a shunt failure is with invasive and expensive brain surgery.

The CatheSure is a pressure sensor that wirelessly detects a shunt malfunction in hydrocephalus patients in under five minutes to non-invasively determine if there is a shunt blockage or malfunction. Use of the device will streamline the diagnostic process and prevent unnecessary exploratory brain surgeries, prolonged hospital stays and repeated radiation exposure.

John DesJardins, the faculty director for entrepreneurship, and director of the Bioengineering Senior Design Program in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said he was impressed by the work ethic and professionalism of the team.

“They’ve been under the gun for three weeks to get all their materials together, and then they had to get on stage live on PBS Saturday night and pitch it,” said DesJardins, who is also the Hambright Distinguished Professor in Engineering Leadership. “They were in with some pretty high-caliber talent from across the ACC, but they were totally prepared and really represented Clemson University well.”

The CatheSure team started this journey by winning the CECAS Spark challenge earlier this year, which led to them competing for the InVenture Prize. DesJardins said Clemson teams have participated four out of the five years the InVenture Prize competition has been held, but this is the first time one of them has placed.

“They’re on a roll!” said DesJardins.

Team member Allison Reichart said the process has deepened her passion for bioengineering:

“Winning second place at the ACC InVenture Prize Competition was a massive step in two directions. One, in helping hydrocephalus patients with ventriculoperitoneal shunts and two, breaking down barriers for women in a male-dominated field. I couldn’t be more honored or prouder to represent both and can’t wait to continue taking strides down these paths!”

Fellow team member Sarah Stevens said she is confident that CatheSure will make a positive impact in the lives of people affected by hydrocephalus.

“Throughout designing the CatheSure, our team has seen time and time again how bioengineering devices can make a truly positive impact on the lives of patients and family members affected by the problem we are solving.”

DesJardins said the next steps will be using the pathways at Clemson to get the CatheSure tested and patented, with the aim of getting it to market in three or four years.

The Clemson team tied for second place with Duke University and will split the $10,000 prize. The team members (all senior bioengineering majors) were:

  • Kathleen Fallon 
  • Allison Reichart
  • Jordan Suzanna Cole
  • Sarah Anne Stevens 
  • Karly Faith Ripple 

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