Pitt Innovators Gather at Human Engineering Research Labs to Pitch Innovations Ranging From Assistive Technologies to Medical Devices and Healthcare Apps

July 27, 2019

As a general surgeon resident, the thing that bothers Sara Myers the most is performing a successful surgery to only end up with a negative outcome in the post-operative period due to a blood clot that results in serious complications or death.

Clots, or venous thromboembolisms as they are known, occur in nearly 40 percent of surgical patients resulting in medical costs of about $10 billion a year, Myers said during her presentation at the demonstration day for the most recent cohort of the Innovation Institute’s Pitt Ventures First Gear program.

SToPVTE, a risk assessment platform to determine risk of developing blood clots after surgery was led by Pitt surgical resident Sara P. Meyers, (middle wearing black dress) and mentored by Michele Migliuolo (right). CHAMP (Championing Hearing Patient Experience Navigator App) was led by audiologist, Elaine Mormer, Lucas Berenbrok, assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy (second from left), and their business mentor Glen Watson (left).

Myers, a resident in Pitt’s Department of Surgery, is the Entrepreneurial Lead of the Pitt innovation team, SToPVTE that is developing machine-learning software that can predict the potential for blood clots based on patient-specific data.  STopVTE will also provide a recommended treatment regimen, including the correct formulation, dose, and duration of blood thinning medications that patients should receive based on their risk calculation.

“We cannot prevent events that we cannot predict,” Myers said during her presentation. “This is the first product that will predict (clotting) risk based on surgery variables,” she said.

“We cannot prevent events that we cannot predict,” Myers said during her presentation. “This is the first product that will predict (clotting) risk based on surgery variables,” she said.

Her presentation impressed a panel of judges from the local startup and economic development community, who selected SToPVTE from among the 13 teams presenting for the $20,000 top prize from the Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Fund.

The First Gear program is designed for Pitt faculty, students and staff who have developed an innovation from Pitt sponsored research. Through a series of workshops over two months they work one-on-one with an experienced business mentor to determine if the innovation has market potential by conducting market research, including extensive customer discovery interviews. Participants receive $3,000 from the NSF I-Corps program to assist with their interviews and research.

The most recent cohort was hosted by the Pitt Human Engineering Research Laboratories at Bakery Square in East Liberty.

Pitt HERL (Human Engineering Research Laboratories) is located at Bakery Square in East Liberty. The Human Engineering Research Laboratories are a part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as the Center for Wheelchairs and Associated Rehabilitation Engineering. Their mission is to continuously improve the mobility and function of people with disabilities through advanced engineering in clinical research and medical rehabilitation.

“This was a strong cohort with a diverse group of participants and innovations,” said Paul Petrovich, the Innovation Institute’s assistant director of business development.

“We look forward to assisting these teams as they continue pursuing impact for their discoveries,” Petrovich added, pointing to other funding opportunities available to Pitt innovators, such as the Center for Medical Innovation and the Pitt Innovation Challenge (PInCh) sponsored by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

Receiving a runner-up prize of $5,000 was the team of Elaine Mormer, audiology clinical education coordinator in the Department of Communication Science & Disorders at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and Lucas Berenbrok, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics at the School of Pharmacy.

They are developing an online training and certification program under the name CHAMP™ for pharmacists who will soon be dealing with questions from consumers related to over-the-counter hearing aid products.

Mormer said that most pharmacists are not prepared for the onslaught of questions they are about to receive in the wake of new Food and Drug Administration regulations that will permit the sale of hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing loss without a prescription.

Judges for the prize awards include:

First Gear teams consist of a principal investigator (PI), an entrepreneurial lead (EL), typically a graduate student or postdoc in the investigator’s lab/school, and an experienced a business mentor (M).

Other teams presenting included:


A patient care app for cancer patient that allows for real-time support

PI: Grace Campbell, assistant professor Acute & Tertiary Care, School of Nursing
EL: Yong Ji Lee, assistant professor, Health & Community Systems, School of Nursing
M:   Paula Grendys

Patient Experience Navigator (PENY)

A patient experience app that allows patients, including pediatric patients, the ability to give real-time feedback on their care. Customers are hospitals that are seeking to improve patient satisfaction outcomes and control costs

PI: Jeff Gusenoff
EL: Eva Roy
M: Dave Santina


A device to measure wheelchair propulsion to assist in selecting the best chair for each user and to train users in proper propulsion technique

PI: Rory Cooper, Director, HERL
EL: Brandon Daveler, PhD student, HERL

Power Wheelchair Compatible Exoskeleton

A powered wheelchair and exoskeleton to assist the user in standing up and navigating tight spaces

PI: Rory Cooper, Director, HERL
EL: Jorge Candiotti, postdoctoral fellow, HERL

MEBot Autonomous Obstacle Negotiation

PI: Rory Cooper
EL: Sivashankar Sivakanthan
M: Kerry Hanahan

A device that can be added to powered wheelchairs to sense terrain and warn the user about potential obstacles

Discreet Wearable EEG Device

PI: Aron Antony, assistant professor, Department of Neurology
EL: Holly Wilson-Jene, graduate student in bioengineering
M: Dick Heilman

Device for measuring seizure frequency and type to provide better data for making clinical decisions related to seizure disorders, including epilepsy


Curriculum kit for middle and high school students that demonstrates heritable bacterial evolution to teach essential biotechnology techniques, promote student inquiry, and stimulate interest in science and math fields

PI: Vaughn Cooper, professor Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics
EL: Abigail Mazie Matela, postdoctoral scholar, Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics
M: Robert Huemmrich


Physical fitness app for patients with advanced liver disease who are at risk of dying before receiving a transplant if they become frail in the interim.

PI & EL: Andres Duarte-Rojo
M: Ian Magazine

AgileLife Bed

PI: Jonathan Duvall, postdoctoral fellow, HERL
EL: Alexander Brynildsen
M: George Abrahim

Adaptable power wheelchair device that allows users to transfer to and from an AgileLife bed independently without the use of dangerous slings or lifts, greatly reducing the risk of injury to both caregivers and wheelchair users.

Wheel-Out Virtual Smart Coach for Wheelchair

Sensor system for wheelchairs combined with an app to prevent pressure ulcers and motivate healthy behavior by managing activity goals

PI: Rory Cooper
EL: Joshua Change
M: Michael Bauer and Phil Brooks

Hybrid Power Wheelchair

A solution that extends power wheelchair distance range, with particular application in remote settings

PI: Jonathan Duvall, postdoctoral fellow, HERL
EL: Michelle Karabin

The next cohort of First Gear begins September 13, 2019. If you are a Pitt innovator ready to discover the potential to achieve impact for your work through commercial translation, click here to learn more and apply. You can also talk to one of our Entrepreneurs in Residence at any time for a consultation.

If your department would be interested in hosting a First Gear cohort, contact the Innovation Institute at innovate@pitt.edu