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Students partner to develop diabetes breakthrough

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

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4 responses to “Students partner to develop diabetes breakthrough”

  1. Romel,
    Great article and a great opportunity for the students. One thing that is missing is the fact that Pacific Diabetes Technologies is housed in PSU’s Business Accelerator in Portland. OSU is way behind the curve in commercialization. The new OSU Accelerator has a long way to go to catch up. OSU gets credit for the new accelerator but don’t stop too long to celebrate. Business opportunities move at the speed of light compared to the speed academic institutions.

    Scott R Schroeder
    Class of ’79

  2. Sandra Woods says:

    Accelerators are great for the State of Oregon – whether they are in Corvallis, Portland, or elsewhere around the State. Oregon universities have a responsibility to contribute to economic development and I’m happy to see that occurring here.

  3. Brian Wall says:

    OSU Commercialization is at an all-time high and operating at 3x the national average. Entrepreneurs, investors and companies like Pacific Diabetes are attracted to partner with world-class researchers and student capabilities offered through the College of Engineering and across campus.

    Our OSU Advantage Accelerator is another great addition to help us propel our commercialization efforts even further.

    Recent press highlights OSU and our region:


    Brian M. Wall
    Director, Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development
    Oregon State University

  4. Perhaps I may stir the pot. Scott claims that business opportunities moves faster than the speed of light. I propose the opposite. Opportunity recognition is similar in cognitive studies to that of pattern recognition. Pattern recognition is one of the defining measures of a good entrepreneur. In many cases the fast follower succeeds where the first mover may not.

    As a Co-Director of the OSU Advantage Accelerator, I very much appreciate the mention in this space. However, We are not your typical accelerator or incubator. Our accelerator is prepared to accept as clients the more capital intensive start ups. Other accelerators seek the low capital intensive web based client because success might take longer than their three month program. Our accelerator comrades offer great programs and provide a host of options is great for entrepreneurs. Most accelerators , such as PSU’s offer outstanding programs. We applaud each and every start up success developed in Oregon, whether Portland, Bend or here in Corvallis.

    At OSU, our Advantage program moves at the speed of business, maybe faster. I invite all entrepreneurs to visit our web site, to talk to us and see how the OSU Advantage Accelerator might be the best choice for your opportunity.

    @Scott: I invite Reliance CM to continue discussions with us to combine efforts to develop a hardware accelerator. We are ready when you are.

    Mark Lieberman
    Chief Startup Officer
    Co-Director, OSU Advantage Accelerator
    Oregon State University

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