Winning BME Student Team Looks to Advance Infectious Disease Diagnostic Tool

Each year, a unique competition for student innovations awards a major funding prize to the most promising technology with the potential to improve primary-care delivery on the frontlines of medicine.

A Rutgers biomedical engineering undergraduate team was recently named the second place prize winners in the Massachusetts General Hospital Ambulatory Practice of the Future (MGH-APF) 2017 Student Technology Prize in Primary Healthcare competition, receiving $50,000 for a rapid point-of-care diagnostic to discriminate viral from bacterial infections. The group was among five finalist teams selected last year to submit a more detailed proposal, outlining the innovation with an eye towards efficiency, cost-efficacy, improvement of the patient experience, increased career satisfaction for primary-care teams, and improved long-term outcomes.

Seniors Charles Rabolli, Neel Nirgudkar, Sarah Salter, and Sudeepti Vedula, and advised by biomedical engineering assistant professor Adam Gormley, conceptualized a point-of-care paper-based microfluidic device that can differentiate between bacterial and viral infections. Rabolli says the goal of the project is to address the problem of over-prescribed antibiotics around the world.

The paper-based microfluidic device will test a small blood sample, like that of a finger-prick used to check blood glucose levels by diabetics, and the blood will then be wicked forward on the device by the paper. Biological markers will be incorporated that are specific for only bacterial infections and others that are specific for only viral infections.

“We feel so honored to be given the opportunity with this award to flesh out an idea that we think will have great global health implications,” says Salter, who like her fellow teammates plans to pursue a medical degree.  “As we begin to plan our next steps, we appreciate the support we’ve received along the way from Professor Gormley and the wider Rutgers community.”

As the project progressed over the past months, the team was able to enhance their final proposal with input from faculty members, including the School of Engineering’s Dean Thomas Farris, Stephen K. Burley (Center for Integrative Proteomics Research), and Richard Marlink (Global Health Institute), along with Rutgers Health and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School physicians Tanaya Bhowmick (infectious diseases) and Alfred F. Tallia (family medicine and community health). The group was also invited to participate in a Rutgers Global Health Forum event with a delegation from Namibia.

“I am so proud of this group and their great success,” says Gormley. “They all worked very hard over the past eight months putting their proposal together. And now, with this win, it is time to put it to the test and see if we can make a diagnostic that can differentiate between bacterial and viral infections.”

The national competition is hosted by Massachusetts General Hospital's Ambulatory Practice of the Future (APF) and sponsored by the Gelfand Family Charitable Trust.

According to Benjamin Crocker, medical director of the MGH APF, “In our commitment to improve the paradigm of care for patients, we seek new tools, enabled by novel technologies, which can improve our ability to make rapid and more accurate medical decisions and engage patients in their care, whether patients are in the clinic or elsewhere.”

Additional information about the Prize for Primary Healthcare as well about the MGH APF may be found at http://massgeneral.org/apf

The five finalists and their projects:

Robert Mannino, Georgia Tech; Noninvasive Inexpensive Smartphone App for Patient Self-Management of Anemia (First Place)

Charles Rabolli, Rutgers University; Point-of-Care Diagnostic for the Detection of Viral Versus Bacterial Infection (Second Place)

Anarup Ganguli, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Molecular Testing on Your USB Stick

Chris Idelson, University of Texas at Austin; Novel System to Mitigate Intrauterine Device Expulsion, With Focus During the Postpartum Period

Ruchi Patel, The Cooper Union; QuickStitch: The Single Squeeze Stitcher