"I understand I'm not a jack of all trades; I can't do everything," says Akingba, also an assistant professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Indiana University School of Medicine. "ITEC has moved the project forward and put the people, timeline and plan into place that gets me closer to my goal than before." Listen
The ITEC program, which aims to make the university "an engine of economic development," teamed Akingba with two undergraduates at the Kelley School of Business Indianapolis and three students majoring in biomedical engineering at IUPUI—giving him the needed research horsepower and access to business and engineering expertise, while providing students a real-life perspective on technology commercialization.
Akingba believes his device could have great potential, saying it's unlike any other tool on the market. Dialysis involves using a machine to artificially perform the functions of kidneys for a patient with failed or damaged kidneys. A patient must have permanent access points established on their body by a surgically-made connection between an artery and vein, so dialysis can be performed repeatedly.
"Unfortunately, dialysis access on average only lasts about two years, after which you have to go somewhere else and look for another access," says Akingba. "If you're on life-sustaining treatment, having to go look for another access site every two years is troublesome; you're going to run out of them eventually."
Akingba's patented modular flush valve covers what he calls the abnormal connection surgeons create between the artery and vein for the purpose of dialysis; Akingba says his device restores normal flow of blood when patients are not undergoing dialysis.
"Because dialysis is only performed about 15 percent of the week, 85 percent of the time, this abnormally engineered structure that we as surgeons create is working in a detrimental fashion for the patient—and the structure can eventually get clogged up," says Akingba. "The goal of the valve is to restore the normal engineering of the body that you were born with for the 85 percent of time you do not require dialysis." Listen
However, Akingba says he needed additional research and answers to business and engineering questions to move the project forward. The ITEC program connected him with Jim Plew, a senior finance major, who delved into one of the greatest hurdles for entrepreneurs: securing funding. Plew researched funding mechanisms to further develop the prototype and mapped a route for Akingba to license his technology to an existing company, if he chooses not to commercialize it himself.
"I'm very interested in entrepreneurship, and when you're a student, you don't get a lot of time to get experience in that regard," says Plew. "It exposed me to technology commercialization, which is something I didn't know a lot about. It also showed me the value a business-minded person can have in the process of commercializing medical technology—or any technology, for that matter." Listen
Eric Wolf, a junior studying biomedical engineering, says the project helped him gain new appreciation for the business side of science.
"In the engineering program, we work in teams a lot, but it's always teams with other engineering students," says Wolf. "In real-life situations, it won't always be that way; I'll have to work with people who aren't engineers. Knowing what they need to get done for the business side will be a really valuable experience in the long run." Listen
Akingba says the students' work and advice "absolutely" gave him clarity on how to streamline the device's path to commercialization. He says having patience is the hardest part of the commercialization process as he works through the many funding and regulatory hurdles that lie ahead; however, he's confident enlisting the help of the ITEC program has hastened him closer to his destination—having the device on the market helping patients. Listen