Saving Lives Takes Engineering and Entrepreneurship
Students and alumni use entrepreneurship competitions to raise money and patent a life-saving catheter design
Each year, more than 5 million patients in the United States require a urinary catheter during hospital stays. Eighty percent of long-term patients will develop a catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI). These infections are responsible for about 13,000 deaths in the U.S. each year and a $400 million increase in costs for hospitals.
“Nobody really knows about the dangers of CAUTI,” said mechanical engineering graduate Ed Hall from Eagle River, Alaska. “That’s why this problem has gone unsolved. The catheter designs haven’t changed for so many years, and the problem has been around the entire time.”
Hall is part of an interdisciplinary entrepreneurial team, including College of Business and Economics graduates Tyber Dodson of Coeur d’Alene and Olivia Esser of Harrison. They are working to patent and finalize a business plan for CatheterX, an innovative urinary catheter designed to prevent infections, save lives and reduce hospital costs.
The CatheterX team has won a total of $16,000 for their business plan, including $3,000 at the 2020 Northwest Entrepreneur Competition in Spokane, Washington. The team also won first place for their investor pitches at the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge, hosted by Boise State University, and second place at the Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge, hosted by the University of Washington.
What’s Different About CatheterX?
The device features an embedded spiral design that, using a syringe, allows solution or antibiotics to be easily pumped through the catheter and released from the urethra. The design was created in 2019 by a team of engineering seniors for U of I’s nationally recognized Senior Design Capstone Program.
“CatheterX started as a great idea from Ed Hall and the engineering team,” said Esser, a Master of Accountancy graduate. “However, it needed a business plan and additional medical data to attract investors at pitch competitions and make it a marketable product.”
Hall, Esser and Dodson, a business marketing graduate, built a business blueprint by thinking through startup costs, developing a financial model and creating a marketing plan focusing on hospitals.
The students worked with engineering alumni to tackle the big hurdles including forming a limited liability corporation, filing patents and seeking Food and Drug Administration approval. Writing a plan complete with hurdles and costs, even if the numbers were not always attractive, the interdisciplinary team showed investors the realistic side of bringing this product to market.
A Diverse Team is a Successful Team
“The diversity of our team simply reminded us of the importance of teamwork.” Hall said. “Without engineering, there would be no solution to the CAUTI problem, and without business and entrepreneurship, the solution would never make it to market.”
A preliminary patent for CatheterX was submitted in early March, and Hall said competition earnings will go toward intensive testing of the device over the next year to build on the 100-page patent document the team needs to submit by March 2021.
The most commonly used catheter in the U.S. is the Foley catheter. Originally designed in 1929, not much has changed on the two-channel device inserted through the urethra that uses a balloon piece to anchor inside the bladder and allow urine to flow into a collection bag outside the body.
Without engineering, there would be no solution to the CAUTI problem, and without business and entrepreneurship, the solution would never make it to market.Ed Hall, ’20
“Medical staff even refer to catheters as Foleys — that’s how much of a standard these devices have become,” said senior design team member and mechanical engineering alum Elena Tipton, ‘19, of Boise. “This device has remained the same because it’s such a hard design to change. The Foley catheter may cause issues, but the device does do an important job effectively.”
Innovations in the catheter design, including laser catheters and devices specifically for children, have come about, but manufacturing costs have impeded distribution of the new devices.
CatheterX’s injection mold manufacturability is cost-effective and would allow it to be produced on a large scale. It is also adaptable in size.
“Some new catheter designs are really scientific and futuristic, but they’re way too expensive,” said senior design team member and biological engineering alum Amy Macias, ’19, of Boise. “Our design is made the same way catheters are made now, but adding a simple feature sets it apart from any design currently out there.”