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Sparo Labs wins $25,000 in inaugural Discovery Competition

Update as of June 30, 2016: Sparo Labs gets FDA nod for its app-connected lung function monitor, Wing

A low-cost medical device targeted to improving world health has taken home the top prize in Washington University School of Engineering & Applied Science's inaugural Discovery Competition.

Andrew Brimer, Ralph Quatrano, and Abigail Cohen, after the 2013 Discovery Competition finals.

Sparo Labs took the largest prize of $25,000. The company's plan stems from an award-winning project to develop a low-cost, pocket-sized spirometer, which measures lung function. The team plans to further develop the product to prepare it for clinical trials, with the end goal of the device be available for use by individuals not only in the United States but also in developed countries to better monitor lung disorders and by health-care providers in developing countries to better diagnose lung disorders such as asthma, chronic obstruction pulmonary disorders and cystic fibrosis. Team members include Andrew Brimer, Abigail Cohen, Philip Thomas, Jon Koo and Chris Cassidy.

"We are very proud of all of the students on the more than 40 teams who participated in this competition," says Ralph Quatrano, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science. "Each of the finalist teams showed exceptional maturity, insight and ambition in their proposals. We are very excited to see how their ideas progress. And, next year we will definitely continue this entrepreneurial activity, which has been generously supported by our Engineering alumni. "

"The students responded to this challenge with some very creative ideas," says Dennis Mell, director of the Discovery Competition and professor of practice. "I can only hope that some of our future Discovery Competition teams can meet the high bar of achievement set by these teams."

In the final team presentations April 17, each team was judged on how its members described the product or technology and identified customers, estimation of the market size and team dynamics.

Team BMC Protein, which is developing a new technology that uses the bacterial microcompartment as a platform for in-vivo protein expression, received a $10,000 prize. The team's goal is to create a standardized and efficient way to produce recombinant proteins that will save scientists time. They plan to create a kit containing a carboxysome-producing strain of E. coli bacteria, along with a genetic tool that will assist scientists in producing proteins. The team's members are Andrew Ng, Benjamin Todd, Brian Basco, Caleb Ford and Lucas Harrington.

The Biliboyz/LumaCure team received a $5,000 prize for its proposal for a low-cost alternative to treating jaundice in newborns by creating a "biliblanket," a small, glowing mat placed directly next to the infant's skin, with much less power intensive requirements and less costly than those currently used. The team built a prototype that uses electroluminescent materials to transmit light, eliminating the need for expensive fiber optics, and to supply a low-cost, reliable and safe treatment for jaundice in newborns, particularly in the developing world. The team's members are Charles Wu, John Prewitt, Huy Lam, Matthew Speizman, Yoga Shentu and Fangzhou Xiao.

Team L3DC received $2,500 for its development of a self-assessment tool to measure symptoms of a tremor in patients with Parkinson's Disease. The software uses a small USB device from LeapMotion Inc., to create a quantitative method for 3-D measurements of a Parkinsonian tremor. This analysis will provide an easy measurement of the tremor that is useful for physicians to assess patients. The product is expected to allow physicians to more easily track the progression of the disease over time as well as the patient's response to drug treatments. The team's members are Matthew Johnson, Vinoo Ganesh, Ethan Green and Andrew Cowley.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science launched the Discovery Competition in September 2012 to promote new and innovative discoveries to solve challenges or needs. The competition provides engineering undergraduate students the forum to explore their entrepreneurial interests with support from mentors, to use their creativity to develop solutions for real-world problems and to compete for financial resources that could help turn their ideas into businesses. The competition will be an annual event.

Teams were composed only of currently enrolled WashU undergraduate students, with at least one engineering student and at least one non-engineering student on each team. Students from all four undergraduate schools were represented on these teams and are encouraged to take part next year.

Inspiring Innovation & Entrepreneurship

The team plans to further develop the product to prepare it for clinical trials, with the end goal of the device be available for use by individuals not only in the United States but also in developed countries to better monitor lung disorders.