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IBE students tame the tigers

William Van Geertruyden

A filtration device originally designed to improve kidney dialysis could also be used to draw the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) from the blood of infected individuals, a team of Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) students suggested Monday, Dec. 8.

The team was one of five to present their year-long capstone projects to their professors, fellow IBE students, the executives sponsoring their projects and industry experts charged with critiquing their work. Their 90-minute presentations took place in a conference room in the Ben Franklin Technology Partners building on Goodman Campus.

The students’ projects were assigned by start-up companies, including Clark Technology Solutions Inc., Plug Away, Element ID, Thor Power and EMV Technologies.

The first team to present investigated new applications for a nano-sized filter designed by William Van Geertruyden, a three-time Lehigh graduate and adjunct professor of materials science and engineering, designed. Geertruyden established his company, EMV Technologies, in 2003 and earned his Ph.D. in 2004.

In 2005, he and his colleagues filed for a patented on a ceramic filter that he believes will improve the efficiency of kidney dialysis. The filter’s pores measure only nanometers in diameter. One nanometer is one one-billionth of a meter. Nano-sized toxins pass through the pores, while the blood itself cannot. Because it is more porous and has a higher toxin removal rate than current filters, Van Geertruyden’s filter could reduce the time required for a dialysis session by 30 to 60 minutes.

The filter may be a boon for those with kidney failure, but Van Geertruyden wanted to know if it could be used in other markets. Last spring, he began working with a team of six IBE seniors to seek alternative applications for their capstone project.

Students in the IBE honors program complete a rigorous course load that incorporates classes from both the engineering and business colleges. They graduate with a business major, and with an additional semester or two of study, can complete a second degree in engineering. The program culminates in a two-semester, six-credit capstone project that begins the spring semester of the junior year.

“Here’s our mission: We want to address a technological issue in a business context,” says Pat Costa, professor of practice in the IBE program.

The IBE capstone project resembles the Integrated Product and Design (IPD) program, in which students develop and market solutions for real corporations and companies. Unlike IPD, the IBE capstone project is available exclusively to IBE students and concentrates on entrepreneurial companies.

“Because they are working with start-up companies, the students have to deal with the technical aspects and with business plans, sales, marketing and manufacturing decisions,” Costa says.

“It’s a win-win situation”

Often, IBE students design or adjust a new product and then present associated business model.

“Our project was little different,” says Brian DePalma ’09 one of the IBE students charged with finding a new application for the nano-sized filter.

The students suggested that EMV Technologies partner with Aethlon Medical, whose patented technology, the Hemopurifier, filters viruses such as HIV from the blood.

Blood flows into one end of a dialysis tube to pass through a semi-porous polymer membrane, where the virus is drawn out of the blood by lectin, a protein for which the viruses have an affinity.

The rest of the blood is too large to pass through the membrane and is returned, purified, to the body. Regular filtration reduces the number of viruses present in the body and deter HIV’s progression.

Aethlon Medical’s semi-porous polymer membrane has uneven pore size and distribution, and not all the viruses may be removed. EMV Technologies’ nano-sized filter offers a more even distribution and the pore size can be adjusted to fit the virus. This could improve the Hemopurifier’s efficiency.

“It’s a win-win situation for both companies and ultimately the patient,” said Colin Vorhies ’09 in his team’s presentation on Monday, Dec. 8.

The team may have thought they had a winning situation, but they needed to persuade their professors, other IBE students, Van Geertruyden and especially industry experts, called "tigers."

The tigers frequently review business proposals for Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a statewide network that supports entrepreneurial companies, including several with whom the students partnered.
The tigers were as exacting as their name implies.

After listening to the presentation, they quizzed the students, asking them to show their cost structure, and advised them to speak with AIDS and HIV specialists and to conduct a failure analysis. The students will incorporate their suggestions in their final paper.

The team passed, according to one of the tigers, Michele Griffiths of Greenwood Associates.

“I think they did very well,” she said.

The capstone project benefits both the company and the students, says Bob Storer, professor of industrial systems engineering and co-director of the IBE program.

While the companies gain free labor from a select group of honors students, the students learn to address real problems facing start-up companies.

“In the modern economy, even established firms need to act as an entrepreneur would,” Storer says. “This background (in entrepreneurial thinking) is critical for the students and for our economy.”

Companies seem to have recognized this. All but one of the students who worked with EMV Technologies have jobs awaiting them after graduation. Allison Grese ’09 does not; she will be attending law school. Many of the IBE students said they believe the capstone project differentiates them from their peers in job interviews.

--Becky Straw

Posted on Tuesday, December 09, 2008

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