VIDEO: UH Startup Medical Diagnostic Invention Places in National Competition

By Kelli Abe Trifonovich and Talia Ogliore

A University of Hawai‘i (UH) startup company that designed a unique medical training device has won 3rd place in a national competition: the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) 2014 Innovation Showcase (IShow).

SMARTUMMY LLC, (SmarTummy) led by UH Mānoa graduate student Larry Martin, has developed a tool to train medical, nursing, and osteopathic students in conducting an abdominal palpation exam.

The proprietary device consists of a manikin torso embedded with reconfigurable inflatables that replicate the tactile feel of a variety of abdominal ailments. A user-friendly computer interface allows an instructor to select from a series of pre-programmed patient conditions and control the location, rigidity, and distention of simulated ailments.

“The abdominal palpation exam is a fundamental, yet critical, skill for every student studying to be a health care professional to master,” said Martin, who serves as CEO.  “Today, schools must rely on walk-in patient volunteers as the primary means of practicing this important skill. More than likely most of these students will meet their first real patients after graduation in a hospital or other clinical setting, thus learning physical diagnosis as part of on-the-job training.”

Appendicitis, gallbladder disease, tumors, distended bladder, peritonitis, and bowel obstruction all manifest as swelling and/or firmness in the human abdomen. A quick and accurate identification can make a big difference in patient outcomes, SmarTummy developers say. An appropriate initial diagnosis could also save health systems thousands of dollars per patient, when compared with multiple rounds of costly diagnostic imaging (such as CAT scans, MRIs, and ultrasounds).

Larry Martin, UH graduate student.

Larry Martin, UH graduate student.

“Since bringing sick patients into the classroom is both impractical and unreliable, a simulation manikin such as the SmarTummy will advance the art of physical diagnosis prior to graduation. Ultimately this product will fill a gap in today’s growing medical simulation industry,” Martin said.

ASME IShow judges evaluated the contestants based on the strength, innovativeness, and feasibility of their ideas. SmarTummy was one of 10 finalists, selected from an initial pool of 59 institutional applicants nationwide that included technologies proposed by Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Massachusetts.  SmarTummy received $10,000 for its third place award.

The SmarTummy team is the recipient of a number of other accolades including a 2013 grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance; the first place winner of the 2013 University of Hawai‘i Business Plan Competition; and semi-finalist in the 2013 California Dreamin’ Business Plan Competition. A UH story about the 2013 UH Business Plan Competition may be viewed at: WEBSITE.

The idea behind the SmarTummy training device originated with Dr. Walton Shim, a Honolulu pediatric surgeon of 45 years and a member of the UH Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) surgical faculty. Shim worked with Martin and UH Mānoa College of Engineering (CoE) alum John Salle, along with mentor Professor Scott Miller of the CoE to develop the concept. Drs. Ben Berg and Lorrie Wong, directors of the simulation centers at the JABSOM and Nursing programs, respectively, collaborated directly with the project.

Martin says, “With these successes and multiple pending patents both nationally and internationally, but particularly with the obvious need in medical education for a patient abdominal simulator and today’s absence of such a device from the market, SmarTummy is in an excellent position to move forward with commercializing our product.” He added that they are currently seeking about $300,000 to develop SmarTummy’s first prototype.

“This is a great example of an innovation that can improve medical training and diagnosis here in Hawai‘i and beyond,” said University of Hawai‘i Vice President for Research and Innovation Vassilis L. Syrmos. “The UH students who developed SmarTummy are building a tool that can also benefit the people in our own medical training pipeline – including the doctors at JABSOM and the nurses that we train at Mānoa each year.”

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