Biomedical Engineering Team Competes Well in Rice Business Plan Competition


May 21, 2019 - A biomedical engineering team led by graduate student Ning Ma won second place in their semifinal round of the 2019 Rice University’s Business Plan Competition. The proposed company, called Embryologic, has developed a noninvasive imaging device that can assess the quality of an embryo for in vitro fertilization.

The UCI team was one of 42 competitors and one of 15 semifinalists. The Rice Business Plan Competition is a graduate-level student startup competition designed to give collegiate entrepreneurs a real-world experience to fine-tune their business plans and elevator pitches and to generate funding and successfully commercialize their product.

Ma is a graduate student in the lab of Michelle Digman, a biomedical engineering assistant professor. Her team includes Digman as founder, project scientist Hongtao Chen, and computer science alumnus Zhenghao Li. Embryologic won a POP grant from Applied Innovation, which funded their competition entry.

Embryologic’s device uses fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy to measure intrinsic fluorescent signals from pre-implantation embryos. The team discovered that embryos have unique fluorescence lifetime signatures that change as they develop in each stage of division. The embryos also have unique signatures when they become unhealthy. Embryologic can assesses the developmental potential of pre-implantation embryos to increase the success rate of IVF and decrease the financial and emotional costs for couples.

“We have developed a machine learning algorithm called the embryo viability index to select the best embryo with the highest developmental potential,” said Ma. “We hope to bring safety and confidence to future parents going through in vitro fertilization.”

Their findings have been submitted to Nature Scientific Reports and a preprint is available on bioRxiv.

“I was really impressed by the quality of the judges at the competition,” said Ma. “The investors were not only inspiring but supportive. Their constructive feedback of new technology startups, suggestions and passion were very inspiring. They truly seemed to care that each startup had the chance to succeed.”

– Lori Brandt

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