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Students join Alumni in Lifesaving Ventures
September 19, 2012
Life-Saving Devices: NICO's BrainPath and Myriad
tumor removal system were breakthrough medical
technology refined with the help of engineers and
student interns at Rose-Hulman Ventures.
For an aspiring engineer, there's nothing more valuable than
meaningful, real-world experience gained while in college. What
could possibly be more meaningful than developing a product that
promises to save countless lives?
That's the experience gained by a group of Rose-Hulman student
interns at Rose-Hulman Ventures, which serves as an engineering
consultant providing invaluable expertise to companies while
offering incredible educational opportunities for students. The
client in this case was an Indianapolis medical technology firm
with long ties to Rose-Hulman Ventures: NICO Corp., whose focus is
on advancing new technology for minimally invasive
NICO's newest product, BrainPath, recently gained U.S. Food and
Drug Administration approval to be marketed in the United States,
where more than 230,000 brain tumors are diagnosed each year. The
device was taken from prototype to finished product in Rose-Hulman
Ventures' labs-the handiwork of a team of students led by
Engineering Manager Brian Dougherty, a 1993 electrical engineering
alumnus. He calls the technology a "game-changer." That sentiment
is echoed by NICO's board chairman, James Baumgardt, a 1970
chemical engineering graduate: "We think we'll revolutionize the
way brain surgery is done."
Just as its name suggests, BrainPath is essentially a pathway
into the brain, says Joe Mark, NICO's Chief Technology Officer, who
worked with Dougherty and his team to polish and commercialize the
technology, starting with a rough prototype developed by a
neurosurgeon. The pathway allows surgeons to guide other tiny NICO
instruments into parts of the brain that otherwise would be
inoperable. These instruments safely remove malignancies or collect
tissue for testing. Those devices include the NICO Myriad tumor
removal system, another technology breakthrough refined with the
help of Rose-Hulman students and now used in 21 of U.S. News &
World Report's top 40 neurosurgery hospitals.
The new BrainPath technology makes surgery possible, in many
cases, where older methods would be too risky. And, its minimally
invasive nature has the potential to reduce hospital stays to a day
or two following brain surgery.
Why would a company involved in something as complex as brain
surgery ask engineering students to help bring its product to
market? For one thing, says Baumgardt, these aren't just any
students. "These kids are smart," he says. "At Rose-Hulman Ventures
we have the capacity to work with some of the brightest young
Compared with scientists who may have been focused on a project
for an extended period of time, Rose-Hulman students bring a new
"They have fresh, unbiased ideas," says Mark. "They have no
preconceived notion of why something can or cannot work. Thinking
you know all the answers can taint how you creatively think."
Baumgardt adds, "Rose-Hulman Ventures serves a real, live
company with limited
|Innovative Team: Rose-Hulman Ventures' Brian Dougherty
and Adam Furore discuss aspects of NICO's new BrainPath
with company board chairman James Baumgardt, also a
Rose-Hulman alumnus and emeritus trustee.
cash and great potential. It's the ultimate win-win."
The overarching goal of Rose-Hulman Ventures is inspiring
today's students through phenomenal educational experiences. Those
experiences can be amazing. Adam Furore, a 2012 biomedical
engineering alumnus, can hardly believe his good fortune and his
contributions to BrainPath's success.
"You're designing a product that is going to change people's
lives and save people's lives," points out Furore, who now works in
product development for Wolf Technical Services. "How many new
graduates can talk about that in a job interview? How many students
can say they've changed the world and touched lives before they
even turned their tassels?"
It's much more than just a great line on a resume, agrees
Dougherty, who spent time in industry before returning to his alma
mater. It's an opportunity for students to put into practice those
engineering skills learned in the classroom.
"They need a chance to apply their learning in what is sometimes
a chaotic environment," Dougherty says. "They need to be in the
chaos and mess of the real world to see how things happen."
An important lesson, says Mark, is that success happens through
trial and error.
"Are things always right the first time? No. What's important is
learning how to fail quickly so you can succeed sooner," he says.
Time spent in the real world, as accessed through Rose-Hulman
Ventures internships, helps students understand how brainstorming
He adds, "There is no stupid idea, no crazy idea, no dumb
idea-just an idea."
Before long, BrainPath will be the tool surgeons across the U.S.
use with other high-tech equipment to routinely see and access
brain tumors once considered more difficult or impossible cases. It
will aid in saving or extending lives and turn complicated brain
surgery into a more efficient procedure with better outcomes.
Looking back, Furore says it's gratifying to know that he played
a significant role in BrainPath's birthing process.
"For several months that was my baby. That was my project," he