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Engineering a life-saving business idea

CMU students partner with Spectrum Health to improve medical device

Contact: Curt Smith

​Every day medical professionals insert little rubber tubes, known as nasogastric tubes, into patients' nostrils and down into their stomachs to deliver food or medicine or to remove harmful substances. Although common, several issues and risks are associated with this practice, including one that could lead to death.

A team of Central Michigan University students, in partnership with Spectrum Health Innovations, has taken on the challenge of finding a solution. The proposed solution will be pitched at CMU's 2016 New Venture Competition.

During insertion, NG tubes are awkward and can injure the tissue inside the sinuses, throat, esophagus or stomach. They also can cause hospital-acquired pressure ulcers and can mistakenly be placed into the lungs, potentially causing death by allowing food or medicine to enter the lungs.​

"NG tubes, at their core, haven't changed much in years, which presents a great opportunity for innovation," Eric Van Middendorp, Spectrum Health Innovations mechanical design engineer, said.

Students in an entrepreneurship course taught by faculty member Robby Roberts have conducted comprehensive research on the NG tube market, which is being used by a team of engineering students to drive their development of a new or improved product.

"This is a great opportunity for the engineering students to develop a novel solution by applying their knowledge of new materials and manufacturing techniques," Van Middendorp said. "It is a great engineering challenge and also a real-world problem where a solution will have an impa​ct beyond the classroom."

The engineering students are learning to follow a process, which begins with developing concepts and moves on to interaction with the client, which in this case is Spectrum. Once a full concept has been approved, they will move forward with a full design.

"This type of project teaches engineering students to interact with customers and business people, which will prepare them much better for when they go on to their professional lives," engineering faculty member Pablo Parraga-Ramirez said.

An interdisciplinary team of students from across the university, including finance, engineering, integrative public relations and actuarial science, will work together to develop a business plan for the project to present at the New Venture Competition next spring.

CMU senior and engineering major Mario Baluha, a member of the team working on the project, sees the potential for a product that could make a difference.

"We are receiving real-world experience as well as working on a new product to help improve the comfort of patients," Baluha said. "I am very excited to finish this project to see how well it satisfies Spectrum's needs."

Spectrum Health Innovations regularly collaborates with higher education institutions such as CMU on medical device development.

"We're very fortunate to be able to partner with CMU's business and engineering departments," Scott Daigger, manager of innovation and entrepreneurship for Spectrum Health Innovations, said. "Developing a successful product takes input from many different viewpoints, and we've found that partnering our clinicians with business and engineering students can lead to novel solutions to health care challenges."

About the New Venture Competition
​​​​Led by the CMU College of Business Administration's Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship, the New Venture Competition is a forum for learning, identifying, nurturing and showcasing emerging entrepreneurs and their businesses. More than 50 judges, including angel investors and venture capitalists, mentor the students along the way.

Related stories:
Stories behind CMU's New Venture Competition​ 
CMU competition awards thousands to aspiring student entrepreneurs​​ 

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