December 09, 2021

Two groups of MaineHealth care team members will split the inaugural fund to advance their innovations: A robotic clot retriever and a portable negative pressure isolation tent.

PORTLAND, Maine – MaineHealth Innovation will be investing $100,000 through its inaugural Bonfire Fund in two innovations designed to improve the care of patients. The innovations receiving funding are a robotic clot retriever to improve the way neurosurgeons clear blood clots from brains, and the Collapsible Aerosolized Particle Enclosure (CAPE), a portable negative pressure isolation tent that fits over patient beds to help contain infectious particles.

The Bonfire Fund was created by MaineHealth as part of its not-for-profit mission of researching new ways to provide care. The idea is to foster and accelerate innovations by care team members to the point where additional external funding can be secured. Recipients are companies founded by MaineHealth care team members and are chosen by a multi-disciplinary group of reviewers from across MaineHealth and its strategic partners. Innovations are judged on whether they provide a novel solution to unmet care needs that can be scaled to benefit the larger community.

“The Bonfire Fund is far more than just a monetary investment in our innovators,” said Susan Ahern, Vice President of Innovation at MaineHealth. “Fund recipients benefit from connections to experts both within MaineHealth and in the larger community that can help them overcome technical or business challenges.”

Both Bonfire Fund recipients previously received $20,000 seed grants through MaineHealth Innovation’s Ignite Fund, which began in 2020. The Ignite Fund supports earlier stage innovations.

The robotic clot retriever is a partnership between MaineHealth neurosurgeons Rob Ecker, MD, MBA, and Jeffrey Florman, MD, and Mohsen Shahinpoor, Ph.D., a mechanical engineering professor of the University of Maine. Drs. Ecker and Florman were looking for a better tool to help surgeons remove blood clots from the brain and discovered Dr. Shahinpoor’s Ionic Polymer Metal Composites (IPMCs), electric “smart” materials that can function like human muscle. They hope IPMCs will offer surgeons a more full range of motion to retrieve clots.

“The Bonfire Fund will allow us to further progress our prototyping towards a device that will be a first in human trial,” Dr. Ecker said.

The CAPE innovation was the idea of two emergency medicine chief residents at Maine Medical Center, Liz Hamilton, MD, and Katie Main, MD, who were looking for a way to isolate COVID patients as they were waiting to be admitted to a negative-pressure room. As experienced campers, they brought their idea of creating a tent-like structure for hospital beds to attending physician Samir Haydar, DO, who encouraged them to develop it. MaineHealth Innovation connected the team with Thermoformed Plastics of New England and Baker Company, who made significant improvements to their early prototype made from plastic and PVC pipe. Now, the team plans to use its Bonfire Fund investment to obtain Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and plan a clinical trial.

“The Bonfire Fund is going to make all the difference,” Dr. Haydar said. “Our collaborative group has the expertise, but without these seed funds, this project just wouldn’t have been able to move on to the next level of development. MaineHealth’s support and the clinical environment within is ripe for innovations like ours.”

In addition to the $100,000 in Bonfire Fund investments, MaineHealth also made $20,000 Ignite Fund investments in four innovations by care team members:

  • Bethany Sweet, CCLS, a child life specialist at The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center is designing a fully-functioning replicated port-a-catheter called “Play Portal” to help pediatric patients prepare for the procedure through play.
  • Theresa Roelke, APRN-AGPCNP, a nurse practitioner at Maine Medical Center is developing a 3D educational tool called a “Pocket Nodule-Lung” that providers can use to explain to patients the size and type of lung nodules that may be found during a lung screening.
  • Will Connolly, RN, an emergency medicine nurse at Maine Medical Center, is designing a compact, cost-effective suction device called “Rescue Vac” to clear a patient’s airway in situations where more sophisticated suction devices are not easily accessible.
  • Sunil Malhotra, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon and medical director at Maine Medical Center, is developing a graft to better direct blood flow in patients with single ventricle congenital heart disease.

“Innovation is one of MaineHealth’s six values and an integral part of its mission of caring for our community, educating tomorrow’s caregivers and researching new ways to provide care,” said Doug Sawyer, MD, Ph.D., MaineHealth Chief Academic Officer and interim Chief Medical Officer. “These funds are one way we help foster a culture of innovation throughout our organization in keeping with our vision of working together so our communities are the healthiest in America.”

MaineHealth plans to continue its Innovation Fund investments with another round of applications in 2022.


About MaineHealth
MaineHealth is a not-for-profit integrated health system consisting of nine local hospital systems, a comprehensive behavioral healthcare network, diagnostic services, home health agencies, and more than 1,500 employed and independent physicians working together through the MaineHealth Medical Group. With approximately 22,000 employees, MaineHealth is the largest health system in northern New England and provides preventive care, diagnosis and treatment to 1.1 million residents in Maine and New Hampshire. It includes Franklin Memorial Hospital/Franklin Community Health Network in Farmington, LincolnHealth in Damariscotta and Boothbay Harbor, Maine Behavioral Healthcare in South Portland, MaineHealth Care at Home in Saco, Maine Medical Center in Portland, Memorial Hospital in North Conway, N.H., Mid Coast-Parkview Health in Brunswick, NorDx in Scarborough, Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County Hospital in Rockport and Belfast, Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford and Sanford, Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook and Stephens Memorial Hospital/Western Maine Health Care in Norway. MaineHealth Affiliates include Maine General Health in Augusta and Waterville, New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Portland and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. It is also a significant stakeholder in the MaineHealth Accountable Care Organization in Portland.

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