Today's doctors don't just use cutting-edge technology; some help develop it. Daniel Yazdi, a third-year student in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, is already pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities in healthcare.
Yazdi has helped to create several prototypes during his time at UCLA. His latest invention, the Guardian Eagle Watch, made it to the semifinal round in Verizon's Powerful Answers competition. Now, Yazdi and his business partners hope to bring the potentially life-saving software to market. Here's how UCLA prepares medical students like Yazdi to make their own entrepreneurial contributions to the medical community.
Promoting medical innovation
Yazdi discovered his passion for innovation during his first year of medical school, when he participated in the inaugural UCLA Inventathon, a 24-hour competition in which interdisciplinary student teams propose and create solutions to modern problems in medicine.
His team won first place with a product designed to detect lung cancer by analyzing a person's breath, using organic-compound sensors found in air conditioners. Resource roadblocks put that project on hold, but the experience was the "catalyst for [Yazdi's] future involvement with innovation."
"I really enjoy the problem-solving aspects of innovation," he says. "If you create an application or product that's scalable to thousands or millions of individuals, you can make a positive impact beyond your individual patients. That's exciting."
Yazdi's team went on to win the following year's 2014 Inventathon for a prototype using EEG machines to determine when patients with chronic kidney disease need hemodialysis treatments. He also has participated in several other innovation competitions around campus. "UCLA has this diverse environment where medical students can work with engineers and students from various disciplines," Yazdi observes. "Because all the schools are so close together, we have unique opportunities to collaborate."
Yazdi also is involved with UCLA's Business of Science Center, which prepares students for entrepreneurial opportunities in healthcare by hosting contests, seminars and lectures featuring notable innovations by faculty members. And during his second year, he helped lead the Medical Innovations Group, which introduces students to physicians who are also CEOs and cofounders of companies in medical technology. "They explain how they juggle clinical practice and innovative endeavors."
These are just a few resources available for student innovators. As Yazdi puts it, "If you're interested in creating something, there's an opportunity at UCLA."
From student to entrepreneur
For his latest invention, the Guardian Eagle Watch, Yazdi partnered with David Kohan, his teammate from both UCLA Inventathons and a computer science PhD student who specializes in machine learning.
Although the team didn't win Verizon's Powerful Answers competition, they formed a company that allows them to continue working on the product. "This tool monitors patients and communicates with caregivers," Yazdi explains. "We're utilizing different sensors in the Apple Watch, particularly the accelerometer to monitor fall detection. GPS sensors also provide patients' locations in case they need help."
The team is still developing algorithms, hoping to eventually apply for grants and submit the product for clinical trials. Meanwhile, Yazdi is a full-time medical student with clinical rotations.
How does he balance it all?
"It's not easy," he admits, "especially during particularly demanding rotations. Then the onus falls on my partners. It's really about efficiency. This summer, I had an hour-long commute to work, so I would brainstorm with David on the phone during my drive."
Yazdi still isn't sure which specialty he'll pursue after medical school, but it will be a procedural field that focuses on technology. "Physicians are becoming very interdisciplinary," he says. "Collaboration is key for digital health, and physicians can contribute something others can't. I ultimately see myself working as a clinician and collaborating with engineers to create medical solutions via technology."
By Taylor Mallory Holland