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MIE Students Percy and Smith Score a Second Place in Grinspoon Elevator-pitch Competition

Rune Percy (center) and Alexander Smith (right)

Rune Percy and Alexander Smith

Rune Percy and Alexander Smith, a student team from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department at UMass Amherst, took second place in the recent elevator-pitch competition at the Awards Ceremony & Banquet for the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. Percy and Smith received a second-place prize of $750, based on their business-concept pitch for ARBioDesign, which aims to save tens of thousands of patients every year by personalizing dialysis treatment using rapid and inexpensive microfluidic blood-diagnostic tests.

Representatives from six area banks sponsored Grinspoon’s elevator-pitch competition and served as judges at the annual event, held at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. The live event featured a student representative from each of 13 participating local colleges.

In addition to its most recent success, the ARBioDesign team was one of only seven finalists in the decisive competition of the year-long University of Massachusetts Innovation Challenge on April 6. Last January, Percy and Smith also won one of the eight prizes handed out at the second competition of the 2016-2017 Innovation Challenge series with their successful “Seed Pitch,” hosted by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship.

With ARBioDesign Percy and Smith are researching and developing a groundbreaking on-line device that can quickly, continuously, and accurately measure key electrolytes such as potassium in dialysis patients without the need for additional blood testing at a lab.

As Percy and Smith explained the need for such an electrolyte-measuring device, “There are 500,000 dialysis patients treated three to five times per week in the U.S. yearly, and this number is rising. Hemodialysis technology is outdated and is far from mimicking the natural bio-feedback of a kidney. From our research with clinicians, nurses, managers, and nephrologists, blood testing is far too infrequent (once per month on average) and, as a result, nearly 90,000 patients die yearly from treatment complications. 24,000 of these patients die from sudden cardiac arrest alone. This and other major complications in patients with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) could be mitigated with more modern technology.”

With all these critical factors in mind, Percy and Smith are working on a less invasive, more frequent blood-testing technique so that electrolyte imbalances can be caught and tracked more easily, potentially saving the lives of thousands.

“We are developing a microfluidic device that uses DNA-based sensors and a single drop of blood to measure potassium inexpensively and immediately,” said Percy and Smith. “As potassium is the leading culprit of sudden cardiac arrest, we believe this device has the power to demonstrate to dialysis companies that accurate, inexpensive electrolyte tracking is both possible and worthwhile.”

Percy and Smith said that one major reason for many complications in dialysis patients is inadequate electrolyte filtration. Dialysate, which acts as the filtration mechanism for dialysis machines, is often generically prepared, and patients’ prescriptions do not change unless adverse health effects arise. Unfortunately, electrolyte imbalances occur suddenly in patients and can have life-threatening complications, as is the case for tens of thousands of ESRD patients every year.
“As the average age of dialysis patients continues to increase and the benefits of personalized medicine continue to proliferate,” said Percy and Smith, “this one-size-fits-all approach is becoming increasingly inappropriate.”

ARBioDesign can take measurements which can also reduce the risk of infection from additional invasive sampling, reduce costs associated with transporting to, and measuring samples in, a lab, and reduce the risk of blood samples changing due to transport. (June 2017)