A UPenn team including two Indian-origin students, wins prize for research on new catheters

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Winners of the YPrize at University of Pennsylvania, Jan. 28. From left, Ishir Seth, Tanvi Kapur, Beatriz Go, WenTao Zhang. (Photo: Michelle Eckert, via Penntoday.upenn.edu)

Two Indian-origin students are in a team from University of Pennsylvania that won the 2019 YPrize for their plan to make catheters immune to deadly infections.

This Jan. 28, students Tanvi Kapur from Germany, a senior at the Wharton School, and junior Ishir Seth (of North Carolina), who is in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Science Management, beat out three other finalists at the Jan. 28, competition to win the $10,000 Y-Prize, which is awarded to four Penn undergraduates. Their team includes senior WenTao Zhang, also from the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program, as well as  Beatriz Go, a senior at UWharton and the School of Engineering and Applies Science.

The team’s company, Nosoco Technologies, is also vying for the Penn Startup Challenge later this year if it meets that competition’s guidelines. Currently it is in the semi-finals for that Challenge.

Kapur told PennToday that the Nosoco team had a personal reason for choosing to deal with the problem of catheters — Zhang’s great-grandfather died from complications of a catheter-related infection.

“This is a huge problem in hospitals,” Kapur is quoted saying in the article.

The Y-Prize, a collaboration between Penn Engineering, Wharton’s William and Phyllis Mack Institute for Innovation Management, the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship, and the Penn Center for Innovation.  Teams like that of Kapur and Seth had to submit a video pitch explaining their idea and how they would make it a reality.

Following on the ” roll-to-roll surface wrinkle printing ” technology developed by some Penn professors,  the Nosoco team came up with the idea to incorporate the wrinkles (micro-sized crevices) into the catheter wall, to prevent or disrupt the formation of biofilms, a super-thin slime of bacteria which clings to a surface. “That pesky little bit of scum around your dishwasher drain is a biofilm; so is the plaque on your teeth. Many biofilms are harmless, but when “bad” bacteria band together, it can cause infection,” the PennToday article explains.

Kapur told PennToday there are 1 million catheter-associated infections each year, and 13,000 people die from conditions such as sepsis and nephritis. for hospitals and insurers it costs an estimated $3.5 billion a year in U.S. alone. The anti-microbial  properties of the wrinkled material is what led the Nosoco team to decide on using it.

The team has already been working on their catheter project over the last few months, and the YPrize money will help testing its viability, a process that could take till the end of 2019, before it can go into clinical trials, the PennToday news report said.

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