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Texas Health Catalyst Demo Day 2019 Recap

Nov. 19, 2019

This post is by Haben Tesfamariam and Lourdes Tames, Texas Health Catalyst program associates.

“What starts here changes the world… but it needs to get out into the world in the first place!” Ruben Rathnasingham, Ph.D., assistant dean for health product innovation at Dell Medical School, shared this sentiment at Texas Health Catalyst’s Demo Day, a stimulating afternoon of innovation-sharing, project-pitching and networking. This idea summarized the purpose of Texas Health Catalyst: to aide in getting groundbreaking ideas out of the lab and into the clinic.

Demo Day 2019, on Nov. 7 at the Blanton Museum of Art, showcased the culmination of a yearlong process of ideation, advising and project development for The University of Texas at Austin principle investigators and Austin-area startups participating in Texas Health Catalyst.

The four-hour event highlighted major advancements toward solutions for pressing issues in health care driven by researchers, faculty and students in Austin’s academic and startup sectors. A series of quick-fire pitches from Texas Health Catalyst teams and innovation updates from Dell Med illustrated this work.

Demo Day concluded with live audience voting for the top three pitch presenters; a keynote speech from Dell Med Dean Clay Johnston, M.D., Ph.D.; and a networking reception for Texas Heath Catalyst teams, advisers and investors.

Quick-Fire Pitches: Accelerating Promising Ideas to Market

The variety and depth of health innovations and pitches were diverse and imaginative. Most importantly, they all aim to improve patient outcomes and impact lives more quickly.

Three Texas Health Catalyst participants presenting their research poster at Demo Day 2019.

Texas Health Catalyst participants present their research poster at Demo Day 2019.

The projects included a pressurized seat cushion to prevent the development of pressure ulcers for people who use wheelchairs; a new polymer formulation that will help cell and tissue survival after freezing; and a novel approach for targeting notoriously tough-to-treat glioblastoma cells.

Here’s a closer look at the three teams the audience selected for top pitch presentation awards.

Drug-Eluting Surgical Drainage Tubes for Enhancement of Patient Comfort

Nearly every patient undergoing a major heart surgery will likely require a chest tube, if not several, during their operation. Chest tube placements are invariably painful due to the mechanical irritation of the pleural membrane surrounding the tissue. Patients often require pain-management medication, which can lead to increased treatment costs, treatment complications and slower recovery rates.

Pediatric cardiology interventionist Daniel Stromberg, M.D., is developing a surgical chest tube with a drug to deliver a local anesthetic at the site of insertion. In collaboration with Aaron Baker, Ph.D., Stromberg hopes to reduce the pain and complications associated with surgical chest tube placements.

Alternate Communication for the Suddenly Speechless

  • Principal investigators: Marissa Mery, M.D., MBA; Lili Qiu, Ph.D.

Current communication solutions for patients on respiratory ventilators require specific technological devices and are time intensive. Alternative technological solutions, such as eye gaze technology, require expensive hardware with specific technical requirements. In addition, they’re not a viable option for ventilated patients with visual complications.

Marissa Mery, M.D. and Lili Qui, Ph.D., have developed a patented software application that can translate frequencies created by physical motion into interpersonal communication.

Programmable Graphene Resonant Gas Sensor for Breath Analysis

  • Principal investigators: David Cayll; Michael Cullinan, Ph.D.; Dave Kuse; Hamid Eghbalnia

David Cayll and his team of engineers are designing a customizable, graphene-based high precision gas sensor to identify patients' breath-specific chemical markers. Their goal is to develop a noninvasive disease detection tool that can be used to detect diseases such as diabetes or lung cancer.

Innovation Collaboration: Updates From the Health Ecosystem

Aside from listening to innovative technology ideas, Demo Day attendees also heard updates about health innovation in Austin as well as Dell Med.

Dell Med Dean Clay Johnston giving the keynote address at Texas Health Catalyst Demo Day 2019.

Dell Med Dean Clay Johnston gave the keynote address at Demo Day 2019.

Mini Kahlon, Ph.D., vice dean of health ecosystem at Dell Med, spoke about introducing more technological innovations into the Dell Med curriculum, and Victoria O’Dell introduced the Innovation District that is slated to break ground in the near future. Additionally, Rathnasingham encouraged team members to think about the value orientation of their health care solutions.

Finally, Johnston spoke of the value of a consultation period for a startup and emphasized the importance of the work that Texas Health Catalyst does in pairing teams with interdisciplinary advisers who have the expertise to propel projects forward.