Engineering Design Project Helps Launch Startup
Student class project catalyst for creation of innovative biotech instrument company
Boston, Mass. – Student projects that attract venture capital money and launch startup companies are rare. A group of Northeastern University students have defied the odds when they helped to invent a biotech instrument that two years later turned into a company. CryoXtract Instruments, LLC, backed by investment firm Allied Minds, Inc., has been launched based on technology invented by Northeastern University students and Harvard Medical School.
The technology, called “Coring System for Extracting Frozen Biological Samples,” included the contributions of four engineering students and their advising professor, as part of the College of Engineering’s Capstone Design Program, a two-semester program where students are assigned a project based on a problem presented by an outside sponsor and are expected to design a solution.
In this case, the problem was presented by Dr. Dale Larson of Harvard Medical School who developed a frozen aliquotter instrument to extract small quantities (aliquots) from vials of frozen biospecimens in a high throughput manner without exposing the samples to freeze-thaw cycles that can damage the biological integrity of the samples. Dr. Larson needed additional coring technology to perform the extractions at a high speed while preserving the integrity of the samples.
Under the tutelage of Dr. Jeffrey Ruberti, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern University, students John Slusarz, Erin Rush, Trevor Ehret and Nicholas Goulas designed and created a special drilling apparatus based on the project’s specifications. Northeastern and Harvard worked together to protect the invention by filing an international patent application that is currently pending. Harvard then approached Allied Minds with the idea of creating a startup to commercialize the technology. In order to further develop the technology, bring it to market and provide its benefits to the research community, Northeastern and Harvard partnered with Allied Minds to create CyroXtract Instruments, LLC.
“This Capstone project exemplifies translational research and collaboration using an integrated and creative approach which incorporates multidisciplinary resources and meets multidisciplinary needs,” said Dr. Ruberti, director of the Extracellular Matrix Engineering Research Laboratory at Northeastern University. “I am proud of my students and honored to be a part of this exciting project.”
“It is very satisfying to know that the arduous design work we put into this project, along with the long nights spent in the Capstone Lab, will be rewarded by enhancing the ability of medical researchers to discover and develop new cures for diseases afflicting people around the world,” said Nicholas Goulas, now a Mechanical Engineer II at MKS Instruments, Inc. in Andover, MA.
The Capstone Design Course, directed by Professor Greg Kowalski of the Northeastern University College of Engineering, is a senior-level team project design course that requires the students to use the knowledge they have accumulated from all of their engineering courses to solve a “real-world” engineering problem or to develop a viable product. With the mentoring and instruction of the entire School of Engineering faculty, this course concludes the engineering technology Capstone’s academic studies by solving an engineering problem that does not have an “answer in the back of the book”. Rather, the answer is determined from the application of good engineering analysis and judgment borne of Co-op and classroom experience.
“This project is a prime illustration of bridging the gap between practice and classroom learning and research and development,” said Jeffrey L. Kosiba, Intellectual Property Manager in Northeastern’s Division of Technology Transfer. “We are delighted to see the work and knowledge of our students used in a novel commercial endeavor, and to see them enter the workforce with such outstanding training and accomplishments.”
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Founded in 1898, Northeastern University is a private research university located in the heart of Boston. Northeastern is a leader in interdisciplinary research, urban engagement, and the integration of classroom learning with real-world experience. The university’s distinctive cooperative education program, where students alternate semesters of full-time study with semesters of paid work in fields relevant to their professional interests and major, is one of the largest and most innovative in the world. The University offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs leading to degrees through the doctorate in six undergraduate colleges, eight graduate schools, and two part-time divisions. For more information, please visit www.northeastern.edu.