Texas Tech University

Medicine and Engineering Collaborate for Innovation at Texas Tech

Innovation Hub Team

September 30, 2019

Medical student entrepreneurs develop new technologies

Although entrepreneurs James Bunch and Patrick Bettiol are second-year medical students at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, they're well on their way to becoming physician innovators. The pair formed a biotechnology startup, Damadian Health, while they were completing the MBA portion of a dual degree program this past summer.

Their hustle is about using technology to make a lifesaving impact through early detection of blood clots. Bettiol's focus is on preventing orthopedic post-operative problems. He has a relative with a history of deep vein thrombosis or DVT. "He starts to form clots in this legs. They're dangerous because they can lodge in his lungs. As he's getting older, he sometimes has trouble managing his medications." That struck a chord with Bunch. He says, "My focus is on emergency medicine. I've seen plenty of patients with vague symptoms you sometimes don't know are red flags until it's too late.  From both our perspectives, we want to monitor what's going on inside the patient in real-time to prevent something before it becomes an emergency." Bunch realized technology he'd used in teaching medical education courses could help with early diagnosis and intervention. Damadian Health is developing an ultrasound-based live data monitoring system to help patients and their physicians recognize signs of potential blood clot problems. The startup's namesake, Dr. Raymond Damadian, pioneered MRI technology. Bettiol says he has a distant family connection to him as well.

Students participate in NSF I-Corps

Damadian Health recently entered the National Science Foundation I-Corps regional program at the Innovation Hub. Bettiol says, "I-Corps will afford us the ability to better understand what it takes to innovate in the healthcare market. We're looking forward to meeting those challenges." Bunch says, "In addition to our involvement in on-campus activities, what we've found through the Hub and I-Corps is yet another community of people that feel the same way we do about improving the landscape of whatever field we find ourselves in. We connect with a lot of people from various disciplines. That's helpful to get different perspectives about how to solve big problems."

Incubator program pipeline future of medical practice

Innovative collaborations geared toward meeting clinical needs are also part of a nation-wide student-run incubator program called Sling Health. Bettiol was approached about helping start a chapter here his first day on campus.  "One of the vice presidents of technology in medicine told me about this national initiative funded by the American Medical Association. Our dean at the HSC, Dr. Steven Berk, matched funding to get it off the ground here. Sling Health is a way for medical students to learn the entrepreneurial process. It's teaching them early in their career that they can shape the future of medicine." Bettiol says the organization only has chapters at institutions with a strong engineering program and a medical school near the university campus. "We were a perfect fit for integrating entrepreneurship and innovation from both campuses. There are so many great ideas, so much great medical research. Engineering is often the key to translating those thoughts into actionable change."

In the Sling Health program, interdisciplinary teams work on solving real-life clinical problems submitted to the AMA Physician Innovation Network database. Bettiol says, "For example, we have a student team working on microscopic dermatological cancer analysis. There's also a UTI (urinary tract infection) recognition catheter project. Another team is developing uses for artificial intelligence microphones to help reduce physicians' clerical workload. It's a pipeline to the future of medical practice." Teams will present their ideas and solutions during Texas Tech's "Discoveries to Impact" week and at the Sling Health national competition this spring.