Category: Student Ventures


Low-Cost Tissue-Freezing Device Could Expand Access to Lifesaving Breast…

Low-Cost Tissue-Freezing Device Could Expand Access
to Lifesaving Breast Cancer Treatments

July 22, 2019

The following was originally published in The Hub.

A reusable breast cancer treatment device created by a group of students at Johns Hopkins University offers a low-cost alternative for women in low-income and low-resource countries.

The tissue-freezing probe uses cryoablation, a method that kills cancerous tissue by exposing it to extremely cold temperatures, and employs carbon dioxide, a widely available and affordable alternative to argon, the current industry standard.

A study detailing the tool’s success in animal studies was published this month inPLOS One.

“Innovation in cancer care doesn’t always mean you have to create an entirely new treatment,” says Bailey Surtees, a recent Johns Hopkins University biomedical engineering graduate and the study’s first author. “Sometimes it means radically innovating on proven therapies such that they’re redesigned to be accessible to the majority of the world’s population.”

The Kubanda cryoablation device leverages the widespread availability of carbon dioxide in even remote areas of low-income countries to treat breast cancer. (Courtesy of Bailey Surtees)

The student startup, Kubanda Cryotherapy, was awarded $30,000 in nondilutive funding as a winner of the inaugural Bisciotti Foundation Prize for Student Entrepreneurship. Kubanda is pursuing patent protection for its technology through Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, the university’s commercialization arm. (The university owns the intellectual property behind Kubanda but has licensed it back out to the company.)

While the survival rate for women with breast cancer in the United States is greater than 90%, it is the largest cause of cancer-related mortality for women across the globe and disproportionately affects women in lower-income countries, where treatment options are scarce. Survival rates for women with breast cancer in Saudi Arabia, Uganda, and The Gambia are just 64%, 46%, and 12%, respectively.

“Instead of saying ‘she has breast cancer,’ the locals we met while conducting focus groups for our research said ‘she has death,’ because breast cancer is often considered an automatic death sentence in these communities,” says Surtees.

In lower-income countries, the main barriers to treating breast cancer are inadequate treatment options. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are often impractical or too expensive, and women in remote areas have long travel times to regional hospitals. Even if a woman is able to travel to a hospital for treatment, she may not be seen, and recovery times will keep her out of work for an additional few weeks.

Cryoablation is an optimal treatment option in these countries because it eliminates the need for a sterile operating room and anesthesia, thus making it possible for local clinics to perform the procedure. It’s also minimally invasive, thereby reducing complications such as pain, bleeding, and extended recovery time.

Current cryoablation technologies, however, are expensive, with a single treatment costing more than $10,000. The devices rely on argon gas, which typically isn’t available in lower-income countries, to form the tissue-killing ice crystals.

Current and former members of the Kubanda Cryotherapy team, from left: Evelyn McChesney (WSE ’20), Yixin (Clarisse) Hu (WSE ’17, M.S. ’19), Tara Blair (WSE ’18), Shivam Rastogi (WSE ’20), Bailey Surtees (WSE ’17), Sean Young (WSE ’17), Pascal Acree (WSE ’19), Serena Thomas (WSE ’18) and Grace Kuroki (WSE ’20). Blair, Rastogi, Young and Thomas are no longer part of the startup.

With these barriers in mind, Kubanda—which means “cold” in Zulu—wanted to create a tissue-freezing tool that uses carbon dioxide, which is already widely available in most rural areas thanks to the popularity of carbonated drinks.

The research team tested its tool in three experiments to ensure it could remain cold enough in conditions similar to the human breast and successfully kill tumor tissue.

In the first experiment, the team used the tool on jars of ultrasound gel, which thermodynamically mimics human breast tissue, to determine whether it could successfully reach standard freezing temperatures to kill tissue and form consistent ice balls. In all trials, the device formed large enough ice balls and reached temperatures below 40 degrees below zero Celsius, which meets standard freezing temperatures for tissue death for similar devices in the United States.

For the second experiment, the team treated rats with mammary tumors. Afterwards, team members looked at the tissue under a microscope and confirmed that the tool successfully killed 85% or more tissue for all tumors. In a third animal experiment, the device was shown to be capable of staying cold enough during the entire experiment to kill the target tissue.

“When we started the project, experts in the area told us it was impossible to ablate meaningful tissue volumes with carbon dioxide,” says Nicholas Durr, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins and the study’s senior author. “This mindset may have come from both the momentum of the field and also from not thinking about the importance of driving down the cost of this treatment.”

While the results are promising, the device still requires additional testing before it’s ready for commercial use. The research team’s next steps include ensuring the device can consistently kill cancer tissue under the same heat conditions as human breast tissue.

In the near future, the team hopes to continue testing its device for human use and expand its use to pets.

The device has been in development by students and researchers at Johns Hopkins since 2015. It debuted in 2016 at Design Day, an annual showcase of projects designed and constructed by undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

“This project is a remarkable example of success from the Biomedical Engineering Design Program,” says Durr, who co-directs the undergraduate Design Team program. “This team of undergraduates has been so successful because they created a practical solution for the problem after really understanding the constraints that needed to be met to be impactful.”

FastForward U

Meet the Entrepreneur: Jade’s Jesse Wu Seeks to Grow…

Meet the Entrepreneur: Jade’s Jesse Wu Seeks to Grow One Dish at a Time

May 20, 2019

Jesse Wu has turned his love of cooking into a burgeoning business venture. Wu, a sophomore biomedical engineering major, is the chef behind Jade, a kitchen pop-up specializing in Chinese American cuisine.

Wu has been hosting fixed-price dinners inside classmates’ apartments but steadily gaining attention outside the Homewood campus. His cooking made him the $1,000 “Crowd Choice Winner” last month during FastForward U’s Demo Day for student ventures. And he will cook for his largest audience yet May 28 through June 2 as Jade takes over The Pop-Up stall at R. House, a kitchen that hosts new chefs for a limited time at the food hall in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood.

In five words or less, describe Jade.

Chinese college kid makes food.

Jesse Wu

When did you first get interested in cooking?

From a very young age, I loved the food that my parents and my brother made me. I really enjoyed cooking throughout high school, but it was mainly just for fun. When I got to college, I was finally able to explore that hobby in-depth because my parents were not around to make my food every day. I didn’t see it quite as “I have to cook for myself now,” but rather “every day I have the opportunity to try something new and learn.”

Why did you start cooking for your friends at Johns Hopkins?

It started as me just cooking meals daily for my roommate. It was a great way to learn how to cook fast. I hosted dinner parties with lots of friends to share a meal and catch up between all our busy schedules. Then I decided to take it to the next level with multicourse dinners for friends in my dorm at Homewood Apartments. I started experimenting with Chinese American food executed with traditionally Western methods and equipment.

Why was it important to you to get ServSafe certified?

It’s not super important for casually cooking for friends, but once you are cooking for crowds an order of magnitude larger, you want to make sure you don’t make anyone sick. Food is one of the highest liability industries; I am asking strangers to put items I prepared in their bodies, and that is a huge responsibility.

What is your favorite dish to prepare?

My favorite dish to cook is mapo tofu. It incorporates such a diverse selection of Chinese cooking concepts, and it serves as good practice. It’s also delicious and something I always got at Chinese restaurants when I was a kid.

Where do you see Jade by the time you graduate?

I hope to keep on doing these pop-ups, sharing my story and representing my culture in Baltimorean cuisine. As I get the ball rolling and spend more time working in restaurants, I’ll be able to make cooler stuff with a greater level of execution. First, though, I want to put my best foot forward. The more I do, the faster I learn and the more I’ll be able to do it right.

Hopefully, I’ll have enough of a stake in this city for friends, consumers and medical schools to want to keep me here, because I love Baltimore.

How has FastForward U helped Jade?

I have been funded with two separate Spark Grants, including the Demo Day prize. Many of the purchases from the first grant were to get the dorm dinners off the ground, but the second one will be key in making R. House (which is an enormous step in scaling up) a success. I have also received very useful advice from the team about FastForward U about the administrative aspects of running a business.

Clockwise, from left: Red bean soup, Hunan-style cabbage, white pepper wings with hoisin vinegar sauce and Mapo tofu over handmade noodles. (Courtesy of Jesse Wu)

What’s one piece of advice you would give a student who is thinking about forming a startup?

If you don’t love it, then don’t do it. I only do this because I love food and cooking. It would absolutely destroy me if I didn’t.

Do you have any special plans for the pop-up?

There are exciting things in the works. Follow @projectjade_ on Instagram!

What are you most looking forward to during your week at R. House?

I look forward to cooking food that I think tastes good and sharing it with the public for the first time. Obviously, with something of this caliber, it is harder to get a message across, but I hope some walk away either thinking something I made was cool or with a new insight on my Chinese American experience.

I’m excited to feed Baltimore!

If you’re not cooking, where do you like to go eat in Baltimore?

I spend a ridiculously large amount of time at Fadensonnen. Lane Harlan’s relatively recent project sees some of the most interesting people in the city come through. I’ve been at least five times within the last few months just for the Masarap pop-ups!


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