It all began as a class project. Two biomedical engineering majors, now alumni, who designed and built a specialized cell-growing device as University of Iowa seniors, now estimate that their work will net millions of dollars, while helping pioneer medical breakthroughs.
Under the guidance of several university business and biomedical engineering professors, students Vikas Goel and James Fenton won the university’s Pappajohn New Venture Business Competition in December 2001, which recognizes outstanding business proposals.
The enterprising duo, Goel and Fenton started their own business, Biomedical Solutions, and plans to market their creation to medical and research institutions.
"It’s all about taking that first step," said Goel, 22, now a first-year dental student at Boston University.
"There are so many resources you can tap into — professors, friends, experience. Use it all. It’s really neat to see the medical profession come together with business and get something off the ground."
Their invention, a tissue bioreactor made last year, cultivates cells three-dimensionally in a BB-sized ball within a growing chamber — a feature that simulates reality better than modern methods, said Fenton, now a first-year medical student at the University of Kansas. Currently, researchers culture cells in flat Petri dishes, which only allow two-dimensional growth.
The result: Potentially more detailed research on Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cancer, and other medical ailments. Growing cells three-dimensionally also lets researchers study them in more detail, Fenton said.
Goel and Fenton have already obtained a provisional patent for the bioreactor, having established that the idea is theirs without explaining how they make the machine. They are waiting for approval of their formal patent, which was filed in October 2002. Typically, the patent review process takes a year.
As part of a class project for Biomedical Senior Design, a year-long requirement for all biomedical engineering majors, they also drafted a business plan that outlines their target customers, potential competitors, and projected profit earnings. Within five years of launching the project, the report predicts the bioreactor will net $1.9 million — though for now, Fenton and Goel say they want to focus on school.
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