Student inventors

Students' nanofiber surgical mesh clinches Olin cup win

Nalin Katta, left, and Matthew R. MacEwan

Nalin Katta, left, and Matthew R. MacEwan hold the Olin Cup after it was awarded to them in a Feb. 3, 2011 ceremony. The pair won for NanoMed, a company that produces electrospun nanofiber material that can replace the protective covering of the brain.

BY Shera Dalin

Washington University in St. Louis engineering students Nalin Katta and Matthew R. MacEwan won the Olin Cup business plan competition on Feb. 3, 2010, and $50,000 in seed investment for an invention that can replace the protective covering of the brain.

MacEwan is pursuing a doctorate of medicine from the School of Medicine and a doctorate in biomedical engineering from the School of Engineering & Applied Science as part of the Medical Scientist Training Program. Katta is pursuing a doctorate in biomedical engineering.

Their company, NanoMed, uses electrospun nanofiber materials to create a synthetic surgical mesh (known as the DuraStar Dural Substitute) capable of repairing and replacing the tough protective membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

DuraStar, which uses FDA-approved polymers, provides better tissue growth and handling compared with existing gold-standard coverings, or scaffolds, the founders say. It could be used during surgery if the natural dura is damaged or removed.

“Our story proves how fertile Washington University is for new ventures,” MacEwan says. “The pairing of students from the medical school, business school, engineering and the hospital leads to great collaborations.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the joint degree program, getting both my MD as well as my PhD, specifically in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the laboratory of Dr. Daniel Moran,” MacEwan says. “I fully believe that my experience in both clinical medicine and basic science directly influenced both our invention and development of this novel nanofiber surgical mesh.”

This year’s 49 entrants for the 25th annual competition were a tough field, says Ken Harrington, managing director of WUSTL’s Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

Harrington announced the winners during the annual award ceremony, which was held in Simon Hall.

It was the culmination of a four-month competition among a record number of contestants.

“This was the strongest group of ventures we’ve ever had in the competition,” Harrington says. “Regardless of funding they receive, these entrepreneurs are focused on what it will take for their ventures to succeed beyond this competition.”

The Olin Cup judges in this year’s contest selected two other winners. They are:

A $20,000 seed investment went to PulmoCad founders Stanislav Samarin, a WUSTL executive MBA student, and community member Kunal Rehani. The PulmoCad team also included medical school student Nnamdi Ihuegbu. PulmoCad created computer-assisted diagnostic software to analyze conventional chest CT scans and help radiologists diagnose lung cancer earlier.

A $5,000 student prize was awarded to the Human Canvas team of Cong Li, a medical student; Nicholas Jenkins, an engineering student; Pei “Sabrina” Xu, a medical student; Keith Ziegelman, a December MBA graduate; and team member Sachin Dixit, an MBA student and medical school employee. Human Canvas is a tattoo-like product that is applied painlessly and fades within a few weeks to six months, according to the wearer’s choosing. It can also be fluorescent, making it visible only at night.

Winners may receive in-kind services from one or more of the competition sponsors in addition to any cash investment.

Prior to the Olin Cup winners’ announcement, a panel discussion was held that featured Announce Media, the leader in cross-vertical, performance- based social media. The company was founded in 2006 by Washington University alumni David Karandish and Chris Sims with the goal of better organizing the online retail experience. Joining them was Tom Hillman, co-founder and managing partner of FTL Capital Partners LLC, a merchant bank and strategic management consulting firm. Hillman has invested in and helped build a variety of private business enterprises. Harrington moderated the discussion.

The Olin Cup is sponsored by the Olin Business School and the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Washington University; the RCGA; RubinBrown LLP; St. Louis Commerce Magazine; Polsinelli Shughart PC; and Lopata Flegel & Company LLP.

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