April 15, 2020

Four students represented the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health at the E(I) Lab’s fifth annual awards ceremony for tackling relevant challenges in health care.

The winning team, LiRA, included a group of five UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and professional students from the Gillings School, the School of Medicine, the Kenan-Flagler Business School and the UNC & NC State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering. The team worked on a project to restore voice to aphonic patients through the development of lip-reading technology.

Nga Nguyen

Nga Nguyen

“This was a one-of-a-kind opportunity to dig deep into the minds of customers and frame a solution that is intimately paired with reality,” said Nga Nguyen, dual Master of Public Health (MPH) and Medical Doctorate (MD) student and member of Team LiRA.

Sam Lai, PhD, founder of the E(I) Lab, launched this experiential program five years ago for graduate students from various disciplines around campus to tackle unmet health care needs, gain firsthand training in prototype development and product design, learn about the latest methods in entrepreneurship and receive coaching and mentorship from UNC’s innovation community.

Each team was given six months to develop a marketable innovation that would serve an unmet need for health care providers and patients. The E(I) Lab program provided financial support and access to various experts with the goal of removing barriers to entrepreneurship and innovation for the participants.

“Every cohort is different,” said Barbara Bell, MEd, associate director of the E(I) Lab. “In this cohort, all 19 members supported each team’s work. They asked questions, offered each other feedback and really came together as a collaborative group.”

The four teams, including the Gillings MPH students, that participated in this cohort were:

First Place: LiRA, with Nga Nguyen (cash prize of $3000)
Second Place: IM Fearless, with Elyse Miller (cash prize of $1,500)
Third Place: Medicare Fair, with Chelsea Leversedge (cash prize of $750)
Fourth Place: OTC Buddy, with Brandy Sullivan (cash prize of $750)

Elyse Miller

Elyse Miller

Elyse Miller, MPH student in applied epidemiology, was a member of the second-place team, IM Fearless. Her team designed a product to increase vaccination rates by reducing needle fears. The product is a device that obscures needles from the patient’s view and reduces the puncturing sensation while still giving the provider an accurate view of the injection angle and site.

“I’m really interested in pharmaceuticals and medical devices with a social impact, like vaccines and contraception,” said Miller. “I thought it was exciting to apply my epidemiological skills in terms of assessing the public health burden and analyzing the data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. The E(I) lab was a really unique opportunity to get to know and collaborate with students in other disciplines on an innovation with the potential to truly improve health care. For me, it connected concepts and skills in public health to clinical health care and allowed me to really see how the problems and solutions we think about on a population level can make a difference in the lives of individuals.”

“We’re extremely proud of Elyse Miller’s award-winning work with her E(I) Lab team,” said Karin Yeatts, PhD, associate professor and MPH concentration lead for applied epidemiology. “They demonstrated creative interprofessional problem solving to address an unmet need for health care providers and patients, and the award recognizes her team’s effective collaboration and ingenuity.”

The E(I) Lab launched out of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy more than five years ago as the first interdisciplinary lab of its kind. Applications for Cohort Six will open on Aug. 1.  If you are interested in learning more, send an e-mail to Barbara Bell, MEd.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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