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Military to Medical: Partnership Challenges Entrepreneurship Students

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Taking patented military technologies and creating products for commercial use—that is the goal of a partnership between Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) and Ball State University’s Entrepreneurship Center.

Through an Educational Partnership Agreement (EPA), Ball State entrepreneurship students work directly with NSWC Crane scientists and engineers to research and identify commercial opportunities for technology and intellectual property (IP) developed and patented by NSWC Crane for military use.

In a best-case scenario, a new technology is licensed and a new company is developed through the technology transfer initiative, as in the case of the simulated skin project.

Previously, the military needed an updated, realistic method to accurately test the impact of nonlethal munitions on human skin. NSWC Crane scientist Dennis Jones developed a skin and tissue simulant, made of a gelatin composite block to represent tissue wrapped in a polyurethane sheet to mimic human skin. The simulant was patented in 2007 and currently is used in ballistics testing.

Expanding on the initial concept of the patent, two Ball State students recognized the potential of the stimulant to provide more realistic models for medical personnel to practice surgical techniques. Most doctors, nurses and medical students currently practice on unrealistic, plastic body parts or expensive human cadavers.

The students, Sean Linehan and Dawn Savidge, worked with NSWC Crane to expand on the patented technology and interviewed medical personnel to gain specific insight for transitioning the product.

“Our research has found nothing that comes as close to simulating human skin as our product,” said Savidge. “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.”

Called “Sim Skin,” the product will come in various shades and thickness to represent human aging and can be molded around artificial limbs to create numerous body parts. The students created a model leg, and are working with an industry partner to develop a better prototype of the leg, as well as other body parts.

The market for Sim Skin is extensive—the students’ research shows that there are nearly 16,000 medical centers in the U.S., 19 colleges and universities in Indiana have medical programs.

Both students will graduate in 2011 and plan to create a startup company, Forefront Industries, soon after. Linehan and Savidge would like to see Sim Skin in the market by 2012.

Ball State’s nationally recognized entrepreneurship program allows students to develop business plans and identify the startup potential of selected projects. The program includes a military-2-market (M2M) option where students research and identify commercial opportunities for technologies and IP developed for military use.

To fulfill the program’s M2M option, Ball State looked to NSWC Crane for advanced military technologies. Through a technology transfer mandate that requires the exploration of shifting military innovations into the commercial market, NSWC Crane is able to provide access to previously patented technologies.

As a result of the partnership, the Warfare Center receives a thorough assessment of a technology’s commercialization potential, while students have real-world products on which to base their business plan and proposals.

“This program not only benefits the students, but the licensing and production of new technologies from previous Crane work is truly remarkable,” said John Dement of the NSWC Crane Technology Transfer Office. “Working with Ball State has already resulted in several leading-edge ideas; I am excited to see what is next.”

As a federal research laboratory leader, NSWC Crane offers access to its expertise and state-of-the-art facilities for economic development and job creation. NSWC Crane’s research and development efforts support the warfighter by providing capabilities and resources to advance technologies for both military and commercial use.

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