Pitt Innovation Challenge 2020


Pitt Innovation Challenge 2020

A New PInCh

Normally, the PInCh final event involves our finalist teams pitching their innovations live to a panel of judges, an evening of networking, and a dinner on the University of Pittsburgh campus. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to innovate, resulting in the first-ever virtual PInCh 2020!

Below are the nine teams selected to win PInCh 2020 awards, through a multi-step evaluation process beginning in March 2020 and involving over 50 expert reviewers. All nine awardee teams will receive funding as well as support from CTSI to help move their innovations to clinical impact.

$100,000 Award Winners

AWARE (Acoustic Waveform Respiratory Evaluation)

Recipient of additional $25,000 pandemic impact bonus award.

Description: A smartphone app that enables at-home lung function monitoring for people with lung disorders such as asthma, COPD, & COVID-19.

Team: Erick Forno, MD, MPHWei Chen, PhDWei Gao, PhD

REPLICA: 3D-Sculpted Cartilage Implants

Description: A custom-made cartilage ear implant that decreases complexity and operative time of facial surgeries, creating a state-of-the-art, high-precision cartilage milling process.

Team: Jesse Goldstein, MDBurak Ozdoganlar, PhD, Liliana Camison, MD, Lucas Dvoracek, MD, Phil Campbell, PhD, Toygun Cetinkaya, PhD


Description: A novel set of lung-targeting peptides, applied to deliver siRNAs to treat the lungs of patients with Cystic Fibrosis.

Team: Maliha Zahid, MD, PhD, Raymond Frizzell, PhD, Sanjay Mishra, PhD

$25,000 Award Winners

Transplants for Kids

Description: A software decision support solution that matches specific pediatric organ donor and recipient characteristics in real-time, saving time and reducing the deaths of children waiting for an organ transplant.

Team: George Mazariegos, MD, Eric Pahl, Jim Squires, MD, Kyle Soltys, MD, CJ Confair, Alex Kepler

SULT Stoppers: Novel Depression Therapeutics

Recipient of additional $5,000 bonus award.

Description: A specific and fundamentally new major depression treatment for the 40% of patients without an effective therapeutic, which inhibits sulfotransferase to regulate serotonin in the brain and can be used in combination with existing drugs (MAOIs/SSRIs).

Team: Alexander Dieters, PhDThomas Leyh, PhD, Ian Cook, PhD, Mary Cacace, Kristie Darrah

Thinking in Speech

Description: A cognitive therapy that helps children with autism independently cope with everyday events that cause stress, by developing their ability to use “inner speech” – the voice in our heads we use to think.

Team: Barbara Baumann, PhD, Janice Nathan, MS, CCC-SLP, Shaun Eack, PhD, Valire Carr Copeland, PhD, MPH, Barry R. Nathan, PhD


Description: A novel EEG lead clip designed for people with coarse and curly hair, bringing innovative human centered design to provide a 15x improvement in measurement accuracy for epilepsy, neurological disorders, stroke, and brain injuries in the Black population.

Team: Christina Patterson, MD, Arnelle Etienne, Pulkit Grover, PhD, Shawn Kelly, PhD, Ashwati Krishnan, PhD, Amber (Momi) Afelin, Jasmine Kwasa

P-SEF (Patient-Specific Expandable Foam)

Recipient of additional $5,000 bonus award.

Description: A polymer spray which expands to exact wound dimensions, saving critical time in the operating room and replacing ineffective manually cut foam blocks to provide an optimal wound healing environment.

Team: Eric Beckman, PhD, Kenneth Urish, MD, PhD, Malcolm Dombrowski, MD, Neel Patel, MD


Description: A smartwatch activity monitor that combines sensors with machine learning algorithms to accurately measure hyperactivity associated with ADHD diagnosis.

Team: Oliver Lindhiem, PhD, Mayank Goel, PhD, Sam Shaaban

Bonus Award

PInCh 2020 offered a bonus award of up to $25,000 for ideas that impacted aspects of health related to an epidemic or pandemic. Proposals were not required to address this issue, but those that did could be eligible to receive additional funding. Selection for PInCh awards is independent of whether a project is eligible for a bonus award. Additional non-pandemic bonus awards were granted based on input from our judges.  

Since 2014, the CTSI Innovation Core has received 949 applications and awarded $6.6 million across 132 projects. Subsequently, this has led to $65.1 million in post-award investments.

Since 2014, the CTSI Innovation Core has received 949 applications and awarded $6.6 million across 132 projects. Subsequently, this has led to $65.1 million in post-award investments.

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