October 20, 2016

Q&A with our TechStart interns

The University of Michigan Office of Technology Transfer’s TechStart program provides internships to graduate students from various programs across the university. Students work in small, multi-disciplinary teams on U-M technology transfer projects, with input from the Tech Transfer staff, faculty inventors and industry mentors.

This summer, three interns worked for the Prechter team in defining the commercialization of PRIORI (Predicting Individual Outcomes for Rapid Intervention) — our smart phone app that detects changes in the vocal patterns of patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder in order to identify early-warning signs associated with mood variation. One of the symptoms of bipolar disorder is changes in speech. During mania, speech increases in rate, rhythm, and volume. During depression, the opposite occurs. The purpose of the PRIORI study is to design new computational approaches to detect these meaningful changes before a mood episode occurs. The hope is that predicting mood changes with significant time to intervene will go a long way toward preventing prolonged episodes of mania and depression and even suicide.

Tell us about your proposed workflow for PRIORI.

"The PRIORI workflow was designed keeping in mind the key concerns of the three parties it is meant to serve: the patients, the psychiatrists and the insurance companies. The proposed workflow allows patients to connect with their psychiatrist through PRIORI appointed social workers (care managers) and get care when they most need it. Psychiatrists are shielded against any false positives by allowing social workers to respond to the generated alert first and screen the patients before getting them a therapist appointment. Lastly, the insurance companies benefit from lower costs of care due to proactive intervention and subsequent hospitalization stay reduction.”

— Tasha Mangaldas is a recent Master’s graduate in Materials Science and Engineering from the College of Engineering. She has previous experience working in medical startups and is interested in exploring the intersection of engineering and business operations in taking a product from conception to production.

Proposed workflow for PRIORI


What have you found would be the strength of PRIORI as a business?

"The strength of PRIORI as a potential business venture is in its clinical advantage and its Michigan brand. In terms of clinical advantage, PRIORI is led by a medical researcher and is focused on detecting both mania and depression. Many of the competitors are focused solely on depression. From a business perspective, the Michigan brand is important; many of the potential payers we talked to were reassured that PRIORI was coming out of the University of Michigan. Funders may be more willing to align with research generated under the aegis and credibility of the University of Michigan."

— Sam Edandison is an J.D./M.B.A. student at the U-M Law School and Ross School of Business. His broad background includes experiences in consulting, operations, and law. Sam is inspired by the thought of taking an idea from an abstraction to a product.


What has this internship taught you about mental illness and bipolar disorder?

"I’d had previous exposure to mental illness through some of my course work, but I’d never seen the human toll these diseases take on patients and families like I did in this internship. It’s heartbreaking. The difficulty of treating these illnesses both from the perspective of available treatments and assessment of treatment efficacy was eye opening for me. It really emphasizes the need for the type of tool that the PRIORI team is developing.”

— Mark Bolinger is a recent Ph.D. graduate of the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology. Mark is currently exploring future job opportunities with an eye toward intellectual property/patent law, and is fulfilling the internship at the Office of Technology Transfer as an introduction to biotechnology and commercialization.