Advancing the Science

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December 5, 2019

It’s predator versus predator at Alligator Tank health care innovation competition

By Advancing the Science contributor
Dr. Charles Bruce walking across room, talking to table full of judges. Historical portrait of Doctors Mayo in the background and partial image of computer screen showing Alligator Tank Participants in the judging app.
Charles Bruce, M.D., instructing the judges for the Alligator Tank competition.

Entrepreneurs chomped at the chance to present exciting new health care projects at the Alligator Tank competition, held Nov. 19 at Mayo Clinic in Florida. About 100 people showed up in Kinne Auditorium—at times standing room only—to watch eager contestants put everything on the line and give their best performance.

Like the "Shark Tank" television concept, presenters or teams had two minutes to pitch their idea to a live audience and panel of judges. Within this allotted time, participants were asked to answer the following: What problem are you addressing? What's the solution? Why you? Why now? What's the business potential: how big is the market, who is the customer, and what is the revenue model? Judges also asked questions about each innovation following the pitches.

The event was moderated by Charles Bruce, M.D., chief innovation officer at Mayo Clinic in Florida and medical director for the campus Life Sciences Incubator. New this year, attendees heard professional pitches from some of the successful start-up companies from the Life Sciences Incubator, a collaborative biotech business hub that generates new ideas and translates them into viable advancements for human health. HeroMedical and SurvivorPlan were among the companies participating.

"Alligator Tank supports and inspires entrepreneurial innovation as we work together to advance patient care infused with new knowledge," says Dr. Bruce. "By encouraging these innovators to work together across groups and disciplines, Alligator Tank contributes to Mayo's team science culture, which encourages diversity of ideas."

Dr. Clifton next to podium with small screen and large screen behind him displaying a slide from his presentation.
Dr. Clifton presenting his team's winning submission: Biomimetic Human Tissue Simulation.

The nine Alligator Tank projects and their teams included:

  • Biomimetic Human Tissue Simulation (Biomimetic simulators utilizing 3D printing for resident education in spinal anatomy, instrumentation, and surgical techniques), William Clifton, M.D.; Aaron Damon; Mark Pichelmann, M.D.; Eric Nottmeier, M.D.; Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, M.D. 
  • Electronic Safety Box (Device developed to organize, protect and improve the electrical safety cords used for IV pole accessories), Grigori Gorelov, Kassie Riley
  • Mayo Globe – VAD (Improved design for contemporary ventricular assist devices), Basar Sareyyupoglu, M.D.; Magdy El-Sayed Ahmed, M.B., B.Ch., M.D.; Si Pham, M.D.
  • Machine Learning for Pathology (A digital interface for pathologists to review biopsy samples, viewing in real time the number of cells, spacing and shape data, as well as a machine learning algorithm to determine if the sample is cancerous), Sean Hall, Qihui Zhai, M.D.
  • High Throughput Comet for Detecting Cellular DNA Damage (A mechanism to process a large number of cell samples for evaluation at a time, with an automated system that reduces sample variability of results), Pankaj Singh, Ph.D.
  • Jon-Z Forceps (Newly designed forceps that can reach any tissue, grasp tissue better, and provide other benefits for surgeons during surgery), Timothy Harshman, Kurt Blasser, M.D.
  • Vascular Cannula (An endovascular device that can stabilize patients by stopping bleeding and keeping the surgical field clean from blood), Magdy El-Sayed Ahmed, M.B., B.Ch., M.D.; Si Pham, M.D.
  • Bronchoscopic Needle-Wire (A device that serves as a guide for tracheostomy tube placement), David Abia Trujillo, Sebastian Fernandez-Bussy, M.D.
  • Imaging Circulating Cells (A device that allows imaging of cells flowing through a glass capillary tube), Alexandra Bechtle, Keila Alvarado Estrada, Kaisorn Chaichana, M.D.
The men are holding a poster shaped like a check from the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship, saying 2019 Alligator Tank Award - Winner: Dr. Abia Trujillo.
Dr. Abia Trujillo (left) congratulated by Dr. Rotman for his team's 2nd place award.

The panel of judges consisted of Magdalena Cichon, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic Ventures; Vic Nole, executive director, Life Sciences Incubator at Mayo Clinic in Florida; Michelle Freeman, M.D., critical care specialist; Takahisa Kanekiyo, M.D., Ph.D., neuroscientist, and John Copland, Ph.D., cancer biologist.

Immediately following the pitches, judges retreated to a private room outside the auditorium to compare notes and select the top health care innovations. Dr. Bruce ended the suspense by announcing the winning projects: Mayo Globe-VAD, third runner up; and Bronchoscopic Needle-Wire, second runner-up. Team Biomimetic Human Tissue Simulation claimed first place.

The competition was open to all roles, including researchers, consultants, residents, fellows, students and allied health employees. This was the third annual Alligator Tank event organized by the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship to promote Mayo's entrepreneurial community and develop solutions for unmet patient needs.

The men are holding a poster shaped like a check from the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship, saying 2019 Alligator Tank Award - Winner: Dr. S.
Dr. Sareyyupoglu (left) congratulated by Dr. Bruce while Dr. Rotman looks on. Dr. S and his team took 3rd in the competition.

“The Alligator Tank has grown year over year since its inception, doubling in the number of innovation applicants,” says Maarten Rotman, Ph.D., who leads the Office of Entrepreneurship at Mayo Clinic in Florida. “This demonstrates the excitement for innovation on campus, especially in the area of research.”

After basking in their victory, the winning teams of Alligator Tank have a chance to go on to compete in the next level of competition: Walleye Tank, a nationally open contest on Mayo's Rochester campus, or receive additional support from the Office of Entrepreneurship to develop a prototype of their health care innovation.

One of last year's winning teams, Christine Mehner, M.D., and Marion (Toni) Turnbull, Ph.D., went on to develop a new tool designed to reduce life-long pain and shorten recovery time for patients with long bone fractures. “Alligator Tank provided us with support and direction as we began the journey from idea to reality for patient care,” says Dr. Mehner. Adds Dr. Turnbull, “We started with an unmet patient need and worked together to find a new solution that we hope will improve patient outcomes. Thanks to the exposure provided by Alligator Tank, the prototype is almost ready to be tested at Mayo Clinic in Florida. We’re grateful for the innovative culture here that makes this type of project possible.”

“Each year, these high-quality, collaborative health care ideas continue to astonish us," says Tushar Patel, M.B., Ch.B., dean for research at Mayo Clinic in Florida. "The entrepreneurial community here is strong and growing, and investments in this area will further our commitment to bringing innovative treatments to patients faster."

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Editor's Note: Photos from the Alligator Tank event are courtesy of Anna Carrano, Ph.D., a neurosurgery research fellow on Mayo Clinic's Florida campus.

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Tags: Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, Basar Sareyyupoglu, Charles Bruce, Christine Mehner, David Abia Trujillo, entrepreneurship, Eric Nottmeier, John Copland III, Maarten Rotman, Magdalena Cichon, Magdy El-Sayed Ahmed, Mark Pichelmann, Mayo Clinic Life Science Incubator, medical innovation, Michelle Freeman, News, Sebastian Fernandez-Bussy, Si Pham, Takahisa Kanekiyo, team science, Toni Turnbull, Tushar Patel, William Clifton

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