At Northwell, a $100K slam dunk

Northwell surgeon and inventor Peter Costantino.

By GREGORY ZELLER //

Fans of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament will help dictate the course of scientific research at Northwell Health.

A new multimedia contest featuring television commercials and online voting will pit three Northwell Health-based medical innovations against each other, with $100,000 in health system research support up for grabs.

The voting is actually open to all, though the TV campaign will heavily target fans tuning into the NCAA tournament. Through deal with CBS, financial details not disclosed, a total of 16 half-minute spots will run during live tournament coverage, starting with Thursday’s tipoff of the Sweet 16 round and running straight through the championship game, scheduled for April 4.

The commercials highlight three potential medical breakthroughs created by employees of the Northwell Health system, formerly the North Shore-LIJ Health System, including inventions born at the system’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. Further information on all three is available on the voting page.

The three early-stage technologies are being “explored” by Northwell Ventures, the health system’s commercialization arm, the health system said in a statement. The $100,000 stipend will be used to speed the public champion toward the marketplace.

“All organizations have smart people with a lot of great ideas,” noted Northwell Health President and CEO Michael Dowling. “Where we distinguish ourselves is providing employees with an avenue to bring their ideas to life through Northwell Ventures.”

Contestant No. 1 in the basketball-focused battle is the Patient Identification Shield, a modern, non-transferable, easily removable and cost-effective hand stamp designed as an alternative to the antiquated hospital wristband. The shield was conceived by Peter Costantino, executive director of Northwell Health’s head and neck surgery division and chairman of otolaryngology – that’s ear, nose and throat surgeries – at Lennox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.

Costantino’s stamp faces off with a revolutionary method for 3D-printing living cells and tissues, using the patient’s own cells as source material. While medical 3D printing is being advanced by many global institutions, Feinstein Institute researchers have created a first-of-its kind “bioprinter” engineered to produce living, functional, biological tissue replacements, a potential breakthrough that could make organ and bone customization a reality in every emergency room and surgery ward.

The third candidate in the cutting-edge campaign is the neural tourniquet, a device that uses electronic nerve stimulation to staunch blood loss in surgical and emergency patients. The tourniquet is the centerpiece of a new company being formed by Feinstein veep Chris Czura, Feinstein research scientist Jared Huston and Kevin Tracey, the Feinstein CEO and bioelectronics pioneer who’s labored over the science for nearly two decades.

How quickly Sanguistat officially launches could depend on the contest and its $100,000 prize – though all three of the potential breakthroughs are likely to receive further Northwell Health funding and support eventually, according to Northwell spokesman Terry Lynam.

“The one that gets the most votes is the innovation we’re going to invest $100,000 in right away,” Lynam said. “But it doesn’t mean we won’t eventually support the others down the road.”

In that way, while there is a quick-hit $100,000 injection at stake, the vote is a way for Northwell Health to market all three inventions and the system’s innovative chops as a whole.

Lynam pointed to three companies already spun out of Northwell Ventures, featuring such high-tech advances as a digital platform for scheduling and documenting pharmaceutical trials, a mobile app that keeps discharged hospital patients on task and a healthcare-administration software suite.

Perhaps the best example of Northwell Health’s innovative mindset is “Buddy’s Curtain,” a liner for hospital privacy curtains that features a “cleanable laminate” shield precisely where providers most often grab and pull.

“We spend a lot of money cleaning those curtains,” Lynam noted. “It’s a pain to take them up and down and it’s expensive getting them cleaned. This enables the staff to clean the edges much more readily with a disinfectant, so we don’t have to take the whole thing down as often.”

A third-party vendor has licensed Northwelll’s Health’s patent and there are 2,500 Buddy’s Curtain liners already circulating through various hospital systems. They’re also in use at Northwell’s North Shore University Hospital, with further Northwell rollouts coming soon, Lynam said.

As rapidly as it’s spreading, and as clever as it is, it’s the Hand Shield’s source – not a post-doc in a lab, but a work-a-day thinker in the services sector – that emboldens the health system as a whole. Thomas Thornton, senior vice president and executive director of Northwell Ventures, said the system has a concerted effort to “empower employees to look beyond the scope of their day-to-day jobs and encourage them to create potentially breakthrough innovations.”

The enthusiasm is even creating “internal competition,” according to Lynam, particularly between the scientists responsible for the three innovations featured in the multimedia marketing campaign.

The election, which was opened to Northwell Health employees March 17 and will continue online for all comers through April 18, generated some 8,000 votes over its first two days – a “testament to the excitement,” Lynam noted – and teams of researchers were actively campaigning inside the Feinstein Institute Monday, displaying their wares and soliciting voters.

“We have some real momentum going,” Lynam told Innovate LI. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm between our researchers and good ideas are coming from across the organization.

“The results of the contest will determine which one of these breakthroughs gets the initial funding,” he added. “But clearly, medical breakthroughs have already occurred and are occurring, and that’s what’s so exciting here.”