An Aid to Perfect Surgical Skills

Doctors, nurses, and others in the medical field will no longer have to practice their surgical skills on unrealistic plastic body parts or scarce human cadavers, thanks to a simulated skin product being commercialized by two Ball State students.

Entrepreneurship majors Sean Linehan, ’11, of Indianapolis and Dawn Savidge, ’11, of Noblesville, Indiana, are working to bring a lifelike skin product to market by 2012. The project is a partnership between Ball State and the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Crane Division, located in southern Indiana.

Developed by a military engineer for use in ballistics testing, “sim skin” will come in several thicknesses to imitate skin that thins as people age. Produced in various hues, the product will be molded so as to layer upon artificial limbs more easily than current simulated skin.

A lifelike skin product has unlimited potential in the marketplace due to expansion of medical and health services, training, and education, Savidge says.

She indicates there are nearly 16,000 medical centers in the United States, and 19 colleges and universities in Indiana have some sort of nursing/medical program.

“Our research has found nothing that comes as close to simulating human skin as our product,” she says. “In fact, we found that the cost of a human body part used in medical schools can run as high as several thousand dollars. We talked to several respected people in the medical field, including one doctor who recalled he had practiced his suturing skills on a towel wrapped around a sponge.”

Linehan and Savidge have been assisted in their initial research by his parents, who work in medical facilities in the Indianapolis area. As a result, the pair spoke with a variety of medical personnel to get their insight on what type of products are most in need.

“We got to see open heart surgery at one hospital, which gave us a real idea of what it would take for our product to work,” Linehan says. “The feedback we received was invaluable. The doctors and nurses we spoke to were very eager to give us advice after testing our product.”

Military Partnership

Simulated skin is one of a half dozen projects being brought to market as a result of Military 2 Market (M2M), a partnership between Ball State’s entrepreneurship program and Crane. The partnership is a result of the military’s desire to commercialize patents developed by engineers at Crane as well as at various installations around the world. During the process, students receive coaching from Navy technology transfer officers, laboratory scientists, and entrepreneurship faculty.

“We believe the key to the partnership is the learning experiences the students receive when they work with some of the best scientists and engineers America has to offer,” says Michael Goldsby, the Entrepreneurship Center’s executive director and Stoops distinguished professor of entrepreneurship. The nationally recognized center is a component of the Miller College of Business.

Senior Sweat

Like other M2M participants, Linehan and Savidge plan to create a startup company as soon as they complete their bachelor’s degree requirements in 2011. The pair will submit a business plan as part of the entrepreneurship program’s E-Day (Evaluation Day) next spring.

A key feature of E-Day is a final pass-or fail review that requires seniors to put their degrees on the line when their business plans are scrutinized by a group of top business leaders just days before graduation. If they pass, students go on to receive their diplomas. Failure requires them to return the next year with a new or revised plan, or to seek another degree.

“The feedback we received was invaluable. The doctors and nurses we spoke to were very eager to give us advice after testing our product.”

—Sean Linehan, ’11