This week I spoke to Rob Lauzen ‘15, an engineering major, about the project he and his group developed while taking ENGS 21: Introduction to Engineering. The group included Rob, Riley Ennis, Kiah Williams, and Katherine Franklin, all ‘15s.
Rob says that going into this project, the each group member was interested in pursuing a project related to health. A few members had previous experience in health and medicine, especially Ennis who was in the process of developing new methods of cancer research.
Their product is a tiny biosensor called DiagnosMe, which has the ability to test for diseases before symptoms manifest themselves by measuring levels of certain biomarkers present in a person’s sweat. When I asked about how the idea for the project came about, Rob told me that the group realized that when a person becomes sick, the body immediately starts producing these biomarkers even before symptoms are present. These changes in the body manifest themselves through biomarkers that are present in many bodily fluids, such as blood and sweat.
The immediate potential that this realization had was that diseases like the common cold and viruses like the flu could be diagnosed days before you would normally be able to. This would reduce the severity of infection, and minimize time away from work.
The group, however, had their sights set on higher goals. they quickly realized that their product had much larger effects, and a much larger market, when targeted towards more serious chronic diseases. Rob says the group focused on early diagnosis of things like cancer and heart disease. This would save the time and money currently required to run complex diagnostic tests for these diseases, it would allow them to save lives through preventative early diagnosis, and their product, the biosensor and iPhone application, makes testing for these diseases as easy as working out for half an hour.
The group has now gotten this test to within 95-100% of the accuracy of the equivalent lab tests. They filed for a provisional patent in January of this year, and are waiting on it and some capital to swing into production. The group hopes to have ten thousand units with which they can run a beta test by the fall of 2013. They say that if things go well, they plan on filing for a utility patent in the beginning of 2014 to be able to swing into production.
When asked what encouraged the group to move forward with their ENGS 21 project, Rob is quick to point out that the Jackson award, an award given to the best product in every term of ENGS 21, was an incredibly supportive and encouraging stepping stone towards bigger things. The group has since been chosen as one of the top 50 most innovative startups run by college students in the world by the Kairos Society, a a worldwide network of young entrepreneurs. The two awards, the group says, gave them access to angel investors and large corporations that they wouldn’t otherwise have had access to. The group has now travelled to New York to seek investors and are in the application process for incubator programs that would provide them with mentors, office space, and funding. The group expects to move on to the next phases of testing and production smoothly, saying that the only roadblock they can foresee is a possible lack of investment funds.
Going forward, the group hopes to be able to include their DiagnosMe technology in things like Nike Fuel Bands or other similar bracelets that would let people constantly know what is going on inside their bodies.
Rob says that the help from professors was incredibly valuable in the development of this project, especially the help of John Collier, who provided ongoing recommendations and support. He says Dartmouth was incredibly supportive and put many resources at the group’s disposal – a clear manifestation of the effort the college is making to support more student entrepreneurship. Furthermore, he says Thayer’s open door policy was incredibly helpful, because with it, they could approach a professor immediately if they had a question or a problem, rather than having to wait to set up a formal meeting. The professors were always willing to provide straightforward, helpful answers that would guide the group towards their goal.
You can find out more about the group’s product on their website http://mydiagnosme.com/
Or by reading Thayer’s publications on the subject: