To notice a problem in the world that urgently needs to be solved is a testament to good observation. To invent a solution to that problem points to even further inspiring qualities of intellect and vision. But to actually turn that idea of a solution into a reality, even when it requires an immensity of demanding work and self-sacrifice, is a rare undertaking that shows an exemplary person. Noel Chang, a freshman studying economics in the College of Arts and Sciences, is exactly such a person.
Chang, founder and CEO of Bluerem, is an individual who has identified a pressing problem in the medical world and is working to solve it. The problem is electrocardiograms, also called ECGs or EKGs, which records electrical signals in the heart. It is used to detect heart problems, as well as monitor heart status, through sticky electrode patches attached to the chest, legs or arms on a patient’s skin. The patches are attached through multiple wire and leads to an electrocardiograph machine, which displays or prints a read-out.
EKG tests determine things such as whether you have a heart attack, weak blood flow, or other abnormalities. EKGs monitor heart rhythm or can help detect thickened heart muscle, or significant electrolyte abnormalities, such as high potassium or high or low calcium. This crucial information is often quickly needed in emergency situations to identify a patient’s problem and the next steps. Patients receiving anesthesia are monitored by EKG, because it affects the affects the cardiovascular and respiratory system, suppressing functions such as breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure.
EKG systems used in hospitals are typically cumbersome because they operate through numerous wires attached to many electrode patches. This means it can often take time to set up and take off the patches, which interferes with testing. In fact, in an emergency room, a patient could be attached and re-attached to a fixed electrocardiogram unit several times if other diagnostic tests are required such as X-rays, CT scans or MRIs. Each time, the sticky patches must be applied, removed and then re-applied. In an emergency, these are valuable minutes that could mean the difference in prompt diagnosis or detection of serious changes in conditions that could mean life or death. It also is a time waste for medical staff, creating inefficiencies in patient care flow.
“There are time-sensitive situations in medical settings where you need to be monitoring through an EKG, as a patient could be experiencing critical changes in condition,” says Chang. At the same time, she notes that EKG procedures haven’t evolved much. The first practical electrocardiogram was developed in 1895 and received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1924. “These machines were invented in the 1900s and yet they have remained largely the same in most medical settings.”
That’s where Bluerem comes in. Using existing Bluetooth technology, Chang is working on an idea for a wireless EKG that can produce better efficiency and patient outcomes in medical settings.
As a Las Vegas resident, she was inspired to create her company after the shootings that happened there in October 2017. “My dad was there when it happened. As a doctor, he got called to the ER. He was describing the scene, and how it takes so long to do simple measures. We’ve advanced so much in different treatments, in different technologies. Yet we haven’t gone back and changed some simple things.”
Chang’s passion for advancing this idea has required an unparalleled depth of commitment. At present, she’s funding her project entirely on her own by working jobs such as dishwashing and competing in as many entrepreneurship competitions as possible. The road to see her company become a success will be a long one, because the FDA process to approve new medical technologies takes years. Yet despite the hard work and uncertainty, Chang is undaunted. “It’s difficult but I can’t wait to do it.”
Right now, she’s saving her money to build a prototype that she can pitch to hospitals and is looking to enlarge her team to include engineers, technical experts, medical professionals and FDA consultants. She’s currently working with an advisor from the CNY Biotech Accelerator and reaching out to Upstate Medical Hospital to showcase her ideas. She is fearless in pursuing her dreams. “I would rather try to do something and know the consequences, than not do it and always wonder. That’s what’s worth it — taking risks and doing what you love.”
Chang credits much of her success to the resources and support she’s received at Syracuse University. Currently living in the Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship Living and Learning Community, she was first inspired to pursue this company through innovation workshops and mentoring the community provided. She got started on her journey at the Techstars Syracuse Startup Weekend last September by the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars at SU Libraries. She’s grateful for LaunchPad support, and especially for how they’ve helped her kickstart and pursue her project.“Everyone in the LaunchPad is crazy creative and collaborative because they constantly come up with ideas and work together to pursue them. It’s a little family there. It’s so beautiful.”
The way Chang channels her vision of innovation into developing one powerful technology breakthrough is a demonstration of her passion and dedication. Though the work she’s doing requires strenuous effort on her part, she is bold and fearless in turning her ideas into reality. “The best thing about entrepreneurship is that everyone can do what they truly love doing. You never know what you’re capable of until you try it.”
Chang is undoubtedly someone never afraid to try and push the limits of her own capability. She is the only freshman at SU to ever enroll on the NSF iCorps training program offered by the LaunchPad, Office of Tech Transfer and the Innovation Law Center. She held her own in final NSF iCorps pitches against seasoned academic and industry researchers. She demonstrated it again last week on the stage of the ACC InVenture Prize competition as she competed against senior inventors and delivered a commanding presentation that won the admiration of judges and competition sponsors.
Before the invention of the EKG it was known that the beating of the heart produced electrical currents, but instruments in 1900 could not measure them without placing electrodes directly on the heart. A young inventor, Willem Einthoven, figured out that a very thin filament of conductive wire, passing between very strong electromagnets, could create a magnetic field, and make a string move enough to cast a shadow on a moving roll of photographic paper. That work, 100 years ago, was visionary. Chang’s concept to take Einthoven’s idea to the next level via wireless, low-power, short-range electromagnetic radio waves in the medical (ISM) band, is equally ambitious. Her goal is to make it a new standard of care in hospitals and emergency situations. And it’s her goal to get to the heart of what it takes to make that happen.
Story by Blackstone Global Media Fellow Claire Howard ’23, Arts and Sciences