When she was growing up — in Colorado, Savannah and South Korea, among other places where her father’s military career took the family — Paige Severino was already set on her life’s work.

“My dad and I used to joke, ‘We just need to invent something, get a bunch of money and then we can all not worry about problems in life,’” says Severino, a UAB senior majoring in biomedical engineering.

Making it happen

Thanks to an eye-opening series of courses and programs at UAB, Severino now knows exactly how difficult it is to move an idea from inspiration to commercialization. But she also sees how to make it happen.

Severino and her research partner, Ali El-Husari, were part of a UAB Honors College course on clinical innovation that got them thinking about the problems of ostomy surgery, which leaves the body unable to expel waste on its own. They made some design improvements, and were selected to join Solution Studios, a partnership among the UAB Honors College’s Science and Technology Honors Program, UAB Medicine and the schools of Engineering and Nursing that pairs clinicians with STEM students. Severino describes it as a crash course in “medicine, engineering, patent law, business, social interaction and communication skills.”

Paige SeverinoPhoto: Paige Severino

Seeing problems to solve

Support from the inaugural Summer Presidential Innovation Fellowship allowed Severino and El-Husari to focus on the issue full-time: observing several multi-hour surgeries, meeting with OR nurses and doctors, interviewing patients, and conducting an exhaustive review of the market for ostomy bags. They concluded that their original concept wasn’t commercially viable. Instead of a new bag, they realized, what was needed was improvements to ostomy surgery. “You can’t fall in love with your first idea,” Severino says. “That closes your mind off to seeing other problems to solve.”

With support from the UAB Medicine Innovation Board, Severino and El-Husari are now testing a prototype device to be used in an improved ostomy procedure. Their goal is to license the technology and see it reach the market.

“I was looking into year-long graduate programs at top universities, and they do exactly what we get to do as undergraduates. This program is unique.”

Graduate experience as an undergraduate

One important lesson from the experience is the value of teamwork, Severino says. “Edison may have been able to sit in his room and dream up the light bulb, but in today’s world, everything relies on collaboration – many minds, working to identify a problem and come up with a solution.”

The experience they’ve received as undergraduates at UAB is “a big selling point” for the university, Severino adds. “I was looking into year-long graduate programs at top universities, and they do exactly what we get to do as undergraduates. This program is unique.”