Biotechnologies provide a fundamental crux between improving laboratory sciences and the medical field. The development of these new technologies requires both technical prowess and a keen business sense so that the products reach the people that need them.
One student at the cross section of this crux is Irena Volkov.
Volkov recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience and a personalized minor in bioentrepreneurship. Her time at American University has served her in developing academic and business portfolios, and her crowning achievement is the founding of her company, Surgicure Technologies.
Of course, her company did not just appear out of thin air; it came from her experiences in research and business. On the academic side, she worked with Dr. Wade Kothman, researching the retina from a neuroscientific perspective. Conducting research with people such as Kothman allowed Volkov to gain an understanding of the scientific mindset and the basics of research.
However, she had other interests as well, taking business courses to satiate her entrepreneurial spirit. It was there that she began to incorporate her two interests into something unique. Although she was happy with her work in the lab, she wanted to focus on practical purpose and real-world application.
It was during this time that her I-CORPS project, and eventual company, began to form. She hit the ground running, using her background from both her research and business courses to take her ideas to the next level.
I-CORPS is a program at American University that aims to support scientific and technological entrepreneurship through customer discovery. In Volkov’s case, she developed a simple concept for a product that solves a problem found in the medical field: an instrument that can improve the patient intubation process.
She describes the product as a “medical tube securing bite block.” Its function is simply to keep the patient’s mouth open during the intubation procedure and is done elegantly by acting as a mouthguard that goes between the molars of the patient. Her entrepreneurial perspective has allowed her to look at this project from an angle other scientists may not have. While to others, it may seem odd to have a scientist so interested in business; to Volkov, it is impossible to separate the two into distinct boxes.
“You can create a drug,” Volkov said, “but how’s it going to get into the hands of people when you don’t know how to communicate and advertise?”
The bite block is set to change the way intubations are handled and improve the quality of life from both an aid-giving and aidreceiving perspective. Prior to this innovation, medical staff would use equipment that went between more frontal teeth, which are much weaker than the molars, and made contact with the skin. They were difficult for staff to adjust and caused serious issues in timesensitive procedures. These older devices were clunky and used with multiple patients, potentially spreading infection. They were also painful in the cases of burn victims as medical staff struggled to put this equipment on.
Volkov’s bite block eliminates these problems by making them disposable due to their plastic (but biodegradable!) composition. This simple solution is easier to implement during emergencies, saving both time and lives simultaneously.
Volkov has been working tirelessly to bring this product to market to try and get people the help they need, gearing up to start the FDA approval process. “I want see it in someone’s hands, knowing it’s going to help them,” she said.
Her drive to help people and work hard extends to all aspects of her life and has granted her the opportunity to join the Medical Engineering and Medical Physics PhD program at Harvard-MIT. Although her main focus will be obtaining her PhD in the coming years, she will continue to pursue her interdisciplinary interests and continue work in both her company and product going forward.