Logo: University of Southern California

A Better Way To Harvest Stem Cells

New start-up is the latest success story from HTE@USC, USC's unique four-year collaboration between doctors and engineers
By: Arash Zandi
September 08, 2014 —

We have all heard about stem cell research and the benefits that it presents to our society, such as one day possibly curing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and other conditions. However, doctors currently have no efficient way to obtain large quantities of bone marrow stem cells without an extremely invasive surgery. StemSurgical Inc., a company co-founded by two USC Viterbi graduate students, hopes to change all that with its new technology, StemJet.

A minimally invasive device, StemJet allows for fast and efficient harvesting of stem cells from bone marrow. Its first application is for cancer patients, while future ones will be for stem cell therapies in general.

“It started off with me wanting to have an impact on the world, and on society,” said Karthik Murali, a USC Viterbi Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering. Murali co-founded StemSurgical with fellow USC Viterbi Ph.D. candidate Furkan E Sahin, an electrical engineering major, and Vladimir Ljubimov and Pamela Mar, both M.D. candidates at the Keck School of Medicine at USC.

The four met as a result of USC’s Health, Technology and Engineering (HTE@USC) program. HTE is a unique inter-disciplinary program by the Keck School and USC Viterbi to create new medical devices or solutions with impact in modern medicine. The four year program pairs quartets of medical students and engineering students, arming them with entrepreneurial training in forming a company.

Murali, a 26-year-old native of India, double-majored in electrical engineering and economics at Northwestern University. But he found his calling after graduation, working in an engineering lab within the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. In dealing with stroke patients, he realized that he wanted to do something to help people, which led him to biomedical engineering.

StemJet’s competitive advantage, Murali said, is speed and time. The device allows for a faster collection of stem cells with less pain. Currently, around 200 needle punctures are required to suck out stem cells from bone marrow in over two to four hours. StemJet aims to do this in about 30 minutes with about less than 10 punctures.

“We are talking about less patient pain after the surgery and less operating room time,” Murali said.

StemSurgical plans to release StemJet in 2016 to hospitals in Los Angeles, with plans to expand StemJet nationwide, then onto Europe. The student start-up won the "Most Innovative Award" and "Most Promising Business Concept Award" at the 2013 USC Student Innovator Showcase, hosted by the USC Stevens Center for Innovation.

“StemSurgical is an excellent example of an interdisciplinary HTE team. They are focused on developing a technology that will drastically improve a common, critically important procedure,” said George Tolomiczenko, HTE@USC's administrative director. “Their efforts have rightly gained the confidence of potential investors.”