BME PhD Student a Finalist for CIMIT Primary HealthCare Prize

in ENG Spotlight-Research, NEWS

CIMIT Prize finalist Margo Monroe (BME) working to develop a new diagnostic assay for allergen detection.
CIMIT Prize finalist Margo Monroe (BME) working to develop a new diagnostic assay for allergen detection.

The Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT) has selected PhD student Margo Monroe (BME) as one of 10 finalists for the 2012 CIMIT Prize in Primary HealthCare, which provides initial funding to engineering graduate students across the country to develop innovative technologies aimed at improving healthcare delivery at the frontlines of medicine. Issued by a distinguished panel of technologists and primary-care clinicians, the designation comes with $10,000 to help Monroe and her collaborators refine their project and research proposal for the competition’s final round.

“My team and I are excited to be among the ten finalists,” said Monroe. “This award validates the value of our lab’s technology as a potential device to be used in the primary healthcare setting.”

The CIMIT award will help fund the development of a point-of-care instrument that measures allergy sensitivity in whole blood—blood that has not been modified except for the introduction of an anticoagulant.

“The biggest obstacle in primary care diagnostics is patient blood preparation and processing, but a potential solution is to deliver a device that operates both accurately and sensitively in small volumes of whole blood,” Monroe explained. “With our technology patients will be diagnosed at an initial clinic visit and thereby spend less time and money for subsequent visits to specialty clinics.”

Costing less than $3,000 to manufacture and based on technology developed in Professor Selim Ünlü’s (ECE, MSE) lab, the device proposed by Monroe’s team would measure the response of an allergen-specific biomarker, called IgE, to purified major allergens within an hour. Only a finger-prick blood sample would be needed to perform the test.

To achieve this objective, Monroe is leading an interdisciplinary team that includes PhD students Alexander Reddington (ECE) and Jacob Trueb (ME’11) and BME/EE senior Joseph Greenspun, a Lutchen Fellow. Drawing on initial support from the Coulter Translational Partnership program in Biomedical Engineering at Boston University, the team is partnering with pulmonary specialist Frédéric F. Little, M.D. (MED); Monroe and Reddington are also funded by the National Science Foundation Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center at BU.

CIMIT, a consortium of Boston-area teaching hospitals and universities, fielded 76 applications for the Primary HealthCare prize from 38 engineering programs nationally. The top three proposals will be announced in June. First prize will be $150,000, with second and third place receiving $100,000 and $50,000, respectively.

“The winners of our awards are undoubtedly headed toward truly significant careers and may well serve as role models for others in their field,” said Ronald Newbower, PhD, co-founder of CIMIT and director of the competition. “We are proud to recognize and support their efforts.”