News Release

Friday, August 3, 2012

NIH announces winners of undergraduate biomedical engineering competition

NIBIB Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams (DEBUT) Challenge winners receive $10,000 for each category.

On Tuesday, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) announced the winners in the three categories of the DEBUT challenge, a biomedical engineering design competition for teams of undergraduate students. The three categories addressed the critical needs in biomedical technology, focusing on devices for diagnostics and therapeutics as well as technology that can aid underserved populations and individuals with disabilities.

The judging was based on four criteria: the significance of the problem being addressed, the impact on potential users and clinical care, the originality of the design, and the existence of a working prototype. Each winning team will receive a $10,000 prize to be shared among the team members and will be honored at an award ceremony during the October 2012 Annual Meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) in Atlanta.

In the category of Diagnostic Devices the winning project was Q-Path: A Flow-Through High-Throughput Quantitative Histology Platform, submitted by Armin Arshi, David Kuo, Robert Lee, Elizabeth Ng, and Andrew Tan from the University of California Los Angeles. The project addressed the most common form of bladder cancer, transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), which is the fourth most common and ninth most deadly form of cancer in men. The team developed a high-throughput, flow-through microfluidic platform combined with automated image analysis software, which allows for systematic screening of patients' urine samples in order to noninvasively diagnose TCC. The system provides the pathologist with a quantitative analysis of the sample and an index to differentiate between healthy, low-grade malignancy, and high-grade malignancy. The device has the potential to be applied to a broader range of bodily fluid samples, including blood and pleural fluids; hence it could play a key role in the early diagnosis of various types of cancers.

QuickStitch- Surgical Suturing Device to Improve Fascia Closure was the winner in the category of Therapeutic Devices. The winning team from Johns Hopkins University was comprised of Anvesh Annadanam, Luis Herrera, Daniel Peng, Ang Tu, and Sohail Zahid. QuickStitch is an inexpensive, disposable suturing tool for gastrointestinal surgery that improves safety, efficiency, and consistency in stitching fascia (a collagenous layer underneath the skin that wraps around the internal organs to keep them from pressing against the skin layer). The device aims to improve surgeon performance and patient outcomes by regulating stitch placement and tension, thus helping to avoid the problems of hernias and ischemia that can result from improper stitching after gastrointestinal surgery.

In the category of Technology to Aid Underserved Populations and Individuals with Disabilities the winning project, Low-Cost Spirometer, addressed the lack of devices to measure lung function for the diagnosis and monitoring of respiratory diseases in the developing world. Andrew Brimer, Abigail Cohen, Braden Eliason, Olga Neyman, and Charles Wu from Washington University in St. Louis designed a fluidic oscillating spirometer that costs under $10. The device offers a significant cost reduction compared with traditional spirometers costing $1,000-$2,000, without compromising accuracy or precision. With respiratory diseases like COPD on the rise, the durable low-cost spirometer could improve healthcare in the developing as well as the developed world.

There were a total of 61 entries from 39 different universities with 284 students involved in the projects submitted.

"We like to think of this as the World Series of student engineering, and it has been gratifying to see how this competition stimulated such imaginative thinking, creative designs and overall outstanding achievement," said Roderic I. Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D., Director of the NIBIB. "We achieved our goal of involving undergraduates in the exciting opportunities biomedical engineers have in developing innovative biomedical technology solutions for problems in health care. The many exceptional projects we received are proof of that."

By holding a design competition open only to undergraduate students, NIBIB intended to encourage the students to compete without reservations of being overpowered by more advanced contenders, explains NIBIB's Zeynep Erim, Ph.D., who manages the DEBUT competition. "It was very rewarding to read the entries and see how the undergraduates stretched their boundaries, formed collaborations — often across departments — and attacked a wide range of unmet clinical needs," she said. "The sophistication of the problems addressed and the innovation of the solutions advanced by the students bode well for the future of biomedical engineering in our country."

Complete project descriptions from the winning student teams along with a list of honorable mentions can be found at

About the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering: NIBIB’s mission is to support multidisciplinary research and research training at the crossroads of engineering and the biological and physical sciences. 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): NIH, 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

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