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$50,000 in funding will be awarded at the annual Biodesign Pitch Competition on Dec. 12

December 7, 2023 - by Kim Delker

Five teams. Five to 10 minutes. $50,000. Endless possibilities that could change the future of health care.

The annual Biodesign Pitch Competition, jointly sponsored by the School of Engineering and the Clinical and Translational Science Center in the School of Medicine at UNM, features student teams who have just a few minutes to explain and pitch their concept or device to a group of judges.

The competition will be 4-6:30 p.m. Dec. 12 in Stamm Commons in the Centennial Engineering Center. Students, faculty and staff are welcome to attend.

The contest is part of a graduate-level biodesign course that tasks students with addressing common problems that professionals in the medical field face. Student teams are then challenged to come up with innovative products and devices that address those needs and must provide a budget and a plan for further developing and commercializing their technology.

Each year, a clinical focus area is chosen, and this year it is prehospital care and emergency medical services. The competition is led by Christina Salas, associate professor in the Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation as well as the departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. In addition, she is director of the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program in the School of Engineering and special assistant to the dean of engineering for Health Science Relations.

Five teams will be competing, with projects ranging from an app to improve the mental health of emergency workers to a water heating enhancement and cooling temperature regulator. Each team will have 10 minutes to pitch their ideas and up to 10 minutes for the judging panel to ask questions. The first-place team will be awarded $30,000 of funding, and the second-place team will be awarded $20,000 of funding. These winning teams will work with Salas for an additional year to prototype and test their technologies and move them toward commercialization with their awarded funding.

This year’s judges are Donna Riley, Jim and Ellen King Dean of Engineering and Computing; Matthew Campen, director of the New Mexico Center for Metals in Biological and Medicine and Regents’ Professor of pharmaceutical sciences at UNM; and Dr. Justin Baca, an associate professor of emergency medicine and practicing physician.

The competition is the culmination of a graduate biodesign course taught by Salas. During the semester, students get a crash course in the medical specialty selected for that year — talking to doctors, nurses, and patients and touring important medical facilities to learn about real-life clinical challenges that are waiting on a solution. Students spend two to three weeks in this medical setting, immersing themselves in clinical problems and familiarizing themselves with the medical specialty. Then, supervised by Salas, break up into teams to research and design a technology that can address a clinical problem in that specialty.

Salas said the course primarily attracts health sciences and engineering students, but it is open to most majors that allow electives from the School of Engineering.