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Low-cost, Customizable Microscope Takes 9th Annual DEBUT Prize
September 9, 2020

The winners of National Institutes of Health’s 9th annual Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams (DEBUT) challenge developed simple and low-cost diagnostics and treatments for conditions such as tuberculosis, cervical cancer, birth defects, and onchocerciasis (river blindness). The DEBUT challenge, with prizes worth $100,000, is supported by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), the National Institute on Minority and Health Disparities (NIMHD), and NIH Office of AIDS Research, parts of the NIH, and VentureWell, a non-profit higher-education network that cultivates revolutionary ideas and promising inventions.

According to information, DEBUT received 86 applications from 46 universities in 20 states, engaging a total of 410 students this year. NIBIB selected three winning teams for designs that excel according to four criteria: the significance of the problem being addressed; the impact on clinical care; the innovation of the design; and the existence of a working prototype. The prizes will be awarded in an online ceremony at the annual Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) conference on October 15, 2020.

NIBIB’s first prize, the Steven H. Krosnick prize, of $20,000 went to the Onchoscope. The team from Stanford University, California developed a low-cost microscope that could help diagnose Onchocerciasis, often called river blindness, a parasitic disease that causes extreme itchiness and, eventually, blindness. It affects more than 20 million people worldwide. The Onchoscope has the ability to diagnose the disease more accurately than the current standard of care and can also be used to monitor the parasitic load over time to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment.

The second prize of $15,000 went to a team from the University of Washington, Seattle for their development of an osmotic concentrator for urinary biomarkers to diagnose tuberculosis (TB).

The third prize of $10,000 went to Duke University, Durham, North Carolina for a low-cost silo used to help save the lives of infants in Sub-Saharan Africa who suffer from gastroschisis, a birth defect where the bowel develops outside the baby’s body.

Two additional prizes of $15,000 each were also awarded by NIH. The first, from OAR, was awarded to the CytoScope from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. The CytoScope is a low-cost microscope that is able to quickly analyze blood samples to monitor the progression of HIV and warn the patient if the disease has progressed. The second prize, awarded by NIMHD, for the innovative Universal Brachytherapy Applicator “At Your Cervix” was submitted by Rice University. This is a low-cost 3D printed device that could help expand treatment of late-stage cervical cancer in areas where medical providers do not have the training or expertise to administer brachytherapy (radioactive implants).

VentureWell selected two more teams based on two additional criteria: market potential and patentability. The VentureWell Prize of $15,000 went to NeuroTrak, a project from Columbia University, New York. The NeuroTrak is designed to consistently collect electroencephalography (EEG) data in real time to monitor Focal with Impaired Awareness (FIA) seizures.

The VentureWell Design Excellence Prize awarded $5,000 to a team from Stanford University, California that developed a urine dipstick test to detect acute kidney injuries.

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