Hope for healing infection: student innovation and business team gets closer to bringing business to life

April 10th, 2017

What started as a new idea in a special topics study has transformed into a business initiative for senior biomedical engineering minors. The team, known as Tech Wound Solutions, continues to bring home victories in their quest to bring a novel wound treatment to market.

The idea is this: 6.5 million people suffer from diabetes, immune deficiency, or other diseases which can lead to higher incidence of wounds, and consequently, wound infections. The bacteria causing these infections also produce an enzyme called keratinase, but healthy human cells do not. The keratinase seeks to destroy keratin, the protein constituting structures such as hair fibers, fingernails, and skin.

This is where “Kare Powder,” made from the keratin that bacteria seek to destroy, comes into play. By pairing a keratin outer shell with an inner core containing an antibiotic drug, microparticles carrying this hidden payload act like a Trojan horse and destroy the bacteria within a wound while sparing the healthy human cells. Only infected wounds get a dose of antibiotic, which also helps control antibiotic resistance. If no infection is present, Kare Powder acts like any other active wound dressing. If bacteria are present, their own production of keratinases self- regulates the release of antibiotic. The more infected the wound, the greater the level of keratinase, the larger the dose of antibiotic released from the keratin microparticles.

Tech Wound Solutions hasn’t spent all their time in the lab. The class that initiated the group’s effort focused on biomedical entrepreneurship, taught by Mark Van Dyke. Their time was split between the development of the powder (originating from a patent held by Van Dyke) and development of a business model.

Taking their plan on the road, the team has found great success. Having won the ACC InVenture Prize @ Virginia Tech, they advanced to the ACC regional competition held March 30 and 31 in Atlanta, Georgia.  A significant portion of that competition included competing live in front of judges drawn from deep backgrounds in industrial design, business entrepreneurship, and technology. Tech Wound Solutions took second place, $10,000, and a very unique-looking trophy.

The team travels next to the Society for Biomaterials annual meeting and expo, where they will compete for a smaller cash prize but have the opportunity to showcase their technology before a larger audience of peers. Later in April, the team will also compete in the VT KnowledgeWorks Global Entrepreneurship Challenge, as well as a write-in competition being held by Massachusetts General Hospital. In cases like this, being noticed by industry is the biggest payoff.

The team includes:

  • Juliana Downey, a senior mechanical engineering major from Moorestown, New Jersey. She focused on market competition, getting a better idea of what existing products offer.
  • Tucker King, a senior chemical engineering major from West Chester, Pennsylvania. He has kept a close eye on financial and business development. Having also participated in student-managed endowment VT SEED, Tucker brings considerable experience to the team.
  • Elisabeth Rebholz, a senior chemical engineering major from Ashburn, Virginia. Her contributions included an overview of IP within the framework of competition. This required learning the details of both Kare Powder and other products on the market, she also beefed up on product knowledge.
  • Kimberly Wyluda, a senior chemical engineering major from Montgomery, New Jersey. Kim worked extensively toward planning for regulatory issues including the FDA approval process.  Her studies explored the advantages of premarket approval over 510(k) clearance.