Classy Classes: Students design health care solutions in BIOE 70Q

May 22, 2018, 12:06 a.m.

In “BIOE 70Q: Medical Device Innovation,” 15 undergraduates design, prototype and test their own solutions to healthcare problems, all within a span of 10 weeks.

This three-unit introductory seminar gives preference to sophomores and is co-taught by bioengineering lecturer Ryan Pierce MS ’00 and biotechnology business executive Joseph Mandato. The course exposes students to the process of creating medical devices through field trips, hands-on problem solving and guest lectures.

Both Mandato and Pierce have held positions related to the medical device industry. Mandato is a co-founder and partner at DeNovo Ventures, a venture capital firm focusing on the life sciences, while Pierce served as vice president of Ventus Medical, a medical devices firm.

Pierce said that he had wanted to pursue healthcare innovations since his freshman year of college, but was not exposed to the relevant design processes until graduate school. Because of this delay, Pierce said, he designed the course to provide opportunities he lacked in his own bioengineering education.

“We aim to accelerate exposure to that process to the early undergraduate years, when students are choosing majors, internships and extracurricular activities that will pave their future career paths,” Pierce said. “BIOE 70Q is the class we wish we could have taken as undergraduates.”

The topics of the course range from basic biodesign process to intellectual property to medtech economics, all of which help students transform ideas from notebook sketches to clinical use.

For Julia Persche ’20, who has a long-standing affinity for bioengineering, this class has only fueled her pre-existing interests.

Persche said she was “fascinated by the intersection of medicine and STEM and how new technologies can open so many doors by intertwining with and enhancing our set biology.”

BIOE 70Q consists of two main assignments, which involve investigating a medical need and proposing a solution. The class culminates with students prototyping their medical devices in the School of Medicine’s product lab.

BIOE 70Q meets twice a week, but frequently involves trips beyond its classroom. Students have had the opportunity to visit IDEO, a design group in Palo Alto, and tour the headquarters of Intuitive Surgical Inc., a company that develops robotic surgical systems.

On top of these hands-on experiences, Mandato and Pierce have invited numerous guest lecturers to speak to the students. They include engineers, doctors and entrepreneurs such as pediatric surgeon James Wall MS ’08 and design firm IDEO founder Dennis Boyle MS ’79. Pierce looks for figures with industry expertise, proficiency at teaching and honesty as well as the ability to engage students.

Zoe Mhungu ’20, who is in the class, said that being able to meet experts and lead players in the medical devices industry has been the most rewarding aspect of the course so far.  

With only 15 students in the class, Mandato and Pierce are able to know the students personally and tailor the class toward their academic and career interests. Pierce credits student engagement as being vital to BIOE70Q’s success.

Although Pierce hopes to equip students with the experience of designing, prototyping and evaluating their own medical device ideas, as well as the non-technical tools like fundraising, regulation and reimbursement, he is also aiming for students to gain skills that reach beyond BIOE70Q.

“We want our students to build capability and confidence as problem solvers and communicators that will transfer to whichever career paths they choose,” Pierce said.
Contact Eliza Pink at epink ‘at’

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