Sherman Center Venture Co-op: Mukki Gill

Mukki Gill, a mechanical engineering and history major, is on a venture co-op at the Sherman Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship Education. In this Q&A she describes her experience and hope to invent a medical device for epilepsy.

Mukki’s venture is inspired by her brother Zor’s lifelong medical struggle with a genetic disorder called Dravel’s Syndrome which cause epilepsy and autism, resulting in unpredictable seizures. Mukki’s medical device hopes to be able to forecast epileptic seizures by adopting the same method that seizure prediction dogs are able to employ in order to alert patients on oncoming seizures. The human body excretes unique odors through breath and sweat prior to a seizure. This biomarker has been proven to exist across both generalized and focal epilepsy and does not appear during non-epileptic seizures, proving its possible application to all kinds of epileptic seizures, and stability to help people like Zor.

Here is a Q&A of her experience at the Sherman Center.

What was the Venture Co-op process like for you? 

I’m currently in the middle of it towards the end of my second half, which is crazy to say…it flies by. I had applied back in the spring because I knew that for my first co-op, I guess even coming into college, that I wanted to be my own boss and just do my own thing. And I’ve been reading about this Sherman Center venture co-op (where you are funded to work full-time on your entrepreneurship venture for your co-op experience) for a while and decided to jump on the opportunity and ended up getting the job, which is really awesome. I started in July and since then I’ve just been working full time on my venture and it’s been really great to have Sherman Center support. Theo Johnson, the director of the Sherman Center, is really an amazing boss and it’s awesome to have the workers that are all working on their own stuff. It’s super energizing and it’s a very unique space and I’m truly grateful for the experience.

What was the process like, in terms of brainstorming and executing the delivery of your medical device? 

Honestly, it was…less of a brainstorming and more of a what is the need and how can I address it? So, you know, if you grow up witnessing a problem every single day; my brother’s disability challenges fall on my mom. I’ve always been like: “If she just knew when the seizure was coming, we could plan around that. And he could also plan his life around that”. My brother has Dravet’s Syndrome, which is an autism and epilepsy. If he has a seizure on the school trip, he has to go straight home. He doesn’t get to enjoy it. If we knew he was going to have the seizure, he could have stayed home. There’s ways to plan around it because people who have recurring convulsive seizures. This is a recurring problem. How do you control and gain control over that? There are seizure dogs that predict seizures but getting these dogs are wildly inaccessible due to price, they’re upwards of $30,000. So, I was like, how can I make a device that can be regulated to have an algorithm and can be personalized, just like the dogs do, to each patient. And from there, I just dug through the entire internet as much as I could, and the puzzle pieces started to fall together. And yeah, that’s kind of where I’m at today with a lot of cold calling, a lot of getting a lot of emails and resetting a lot of emails.

What does your medical device do? 

There’s no device yet. It’s all very much conceptual right now. Medical devices take a long time to get to market. But my hope for my device, my goal for my company, is to be able to create a portable, noninvasive device that can predict all epileptic seizures, one day. To give control to patients and independence to patients. What the devices aim to do is take specific noninvasive biomarkers such as heart rate, body temperature, and what the dogs are sensing and compiling all of that data into something that we can regulate through a device that can recognize when X, Y, and Z biomarkers spike, a seizure is going to come 90 minutes after or 20 minutes, whatever the patient wants. Dogs have been proven to be able to predict seizures up to 90 minutes in advance. But the way that they do so is all hypothesis. So a lot of people say that they smell the seizures and they smell the chemical changes. And that’s what I’m basing a lot of my science off of. But there’s also other things such as body changes and body language and, you know, all these other things that the dogs are able to sense. So that’s why I think it’s really important to couple the chemical changes with other kinds of changes in the body to get a more holistic view. 

What are your plans for the medical device? 

I’m partnering with a professor here at Northeastern who has his own device that he’s been using to do his own research that he developed in his lab. And his research has been centered around trying to find a breakthrough for lung cancer or Alzheimer’s or dementia and all these other kinds of things that dogs have been able to sense again before. I spoke to him a few times and we’re going to be applying for Northeastern funding together in a month. He has his device and what we’re hoping to do is take his device and give it to people with epilepsy and run our research study. We’re working on planning and then eventually take those potential biomarkers and then confirm them and find their predictive values. And once we’re able to confirm that they’re predictive, we can train the device to be personalized for epilepsy, work with patients, and then get it to market. 

How has the Sherman Center impacted you?

The Sherman Center feels just like a family; entrepreneurs that care about these things that we’ve never met before. Everyone has a very common, basic understanding that we all want each other to succeed. We want to help each other. And we all just have goals of making our world and our society a better place. And being surrounded by that, and such vast skills and diverse mindsets is exactly where you want to be if you want to be if you’re putting anything together. It can drive you as close as you can get. It’s so good to know that we have a lot of resources here because this is a big school and I think it’s our duty to take full advantage of those resources. 

Is there any additional information you’d like to share such as a charity your supporting?

Yeah, there’s the Epilepsy Foundation, which is really amazing. They do a lot of work. I’m also doing personal fundraising for my research, and, just supporting entrepreneurs here locally is really important. I think sometimes, especially people with busy schedules don’t really understand when they get an email from an undergrad with an idea. It’s a stretch. It’s nice to be able to have these conversations. And I appreciate it when people take time out of their day to educate me and help me go forward. The Sherman Center’s really been a great place to harness those skills for anything.

Original article written by Christina McCabe, Kalina Monova, and Xavier Cortez of the Sherman Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship Education

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering