When Pacific Diabetes Technologies, a Portland startup, wanted partners to help develop its technology, company representatives contacted John Conley, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Greg Herman, associate professor of chemical engineering. They wanted to tap into the highly developed skills of graduate students in Oregon State’s College of Engineering.
As a result, Chris Durgan, a graduate student in chemical engineering, and David Matthews, a graduate student in electrical engineering, have worked closely with Pacific Diabetes Technologies for more than a year to develop prototypes of a catheter that combines the functions of an insulin pump and a glucose sensor in a single unit.
“Chris and David have been stupendously good,” said Dr. Ken Ward, chief science officer for Pacific Diabetes Technologies. “This has been a hands-on experience. They have learned a lot and have helped us incredibly — it’s the best of both worlds.”
The “artificial pancreas” Durgan and Matthews are helping to develop aims to make things easier for people with Type 1 diabetes, who often have to carry several instruments to monitor and treat fluctuations in their blood sugar. The students effectively work as consultants for the company, participating in weekly teleconferences to update their progress, and on occasion making the drive up to Portland for face-to-face meetings. The work is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The opportunity to work with a small startup company doing groundbreaking work has been an invaluable part of his education, Durgan said. He just completed his master’s degree at Oregon State, and is considering a job offer from the company. “A startup works at a really fast pace, and you need to make quick turnarounds,” Durgan said. “There are a lot of demands, but I like to be working on something so interesting and different.”
“At Oregon State, a lot of our engineering students want to work in things they can really grab onto, something that’s “real” and makes a difference in society,” Herman said. “By having the students interact with companies, big or small, they get a chance to do that, and at the same time learn about company cultures and how projects are run and managed. We provide expertise to the companies, and the companies give our students great experience that they wouldn’t otherwise get. It’s a perfect mesh.”
— Romel Hernandez