By Patrick Kurp
Special to the Rice News
A team of Rice undergraduates took home first prize and $10,000 in the 2020 Collegiate Inventors Competition, an initiative of the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) sponsored by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Arrow Electronics.
At Your Cervix won the undergraduate division for its device, the UFO (Universally Friendly Obturator), which helps guide needles carrying radiation seeds directly to late-stage cervical tumors. Team members are recent graduates Elisa Arango, psychology; Susannah Dittmar and Krithika Kumar, bioengineering, and Sanika Rane and Lauren Payne, kinesiology.
Members of the award-winning “At Your Cervix” team, from left: Krithika Kumar, Elisa Arango, Sanika Rane, Susannah Dittmar and Lauren Payne.
The current standard of treatment does not involve the device. Instead, physicians place needles through tissue and risk puncturing blood vessels, nerves and vital organs. The UFO avoids these risks and complications, and simplifies reaching previously inaccessible regions with accuracy.
The team’s advisers were Dr. Michelle Ludwig and Dr. Alexander Hanania at Baylor College of Medicine, and Matthew Wettergreen, an associate teaching professor in bioengineering at Rice. The team also worked in collaboration with the Harris County Health System and Rice 360° Institute for Global Health.
Cervical cancer kills more than 300,000 women around the world each year. Brachytherapy, a form of radiation therapy, is the only curative treatment for late-stage cases but because of its complexity it’s used infrequently. The UFO is a customizable device that would simplify the procedure and lowers patient morbidity and mortality.
The UFO project is continuing in the Rice Global Medical Innovation program, with the original team members moving the device toward pilot patient trials.
In the final round of the Collegiate Inventors Competition Oct. 28, five teams of undergraduates and five teams of graduate students from nine U.S. colleges and universities presented their inventions virtually to a panel of judges that included NIHF inductees and officials from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
At Your Cervix was also awarded second prize in the Rice 360˚ Undergraduate Global Health Technologies Design Competition and the grand prize in the University of Minnesota Design of Medical Devices competition. The project received the $15,000 Healthcare Technologies for Low-Resource Settings Prize in the DEBUT challenge from the National Institutes of Health, and a $10,000 grant as a Maternal and Newborn Health finalist in the MIT Virtual Solve Challenge.
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