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May 26, 2005
CONTACT: Carol Anderson 734.487.4400

Ideas take shape at EMU's Center for Product Research and Development

YPSILANTI - Inventors have the ideas. Eastern Michigan University's Center for Product Research and Development gives them shape.

Created in 2002, the center offers individuals and companies help with patent searches, product design and prototypes for medical, electronic and mechanical devices. Its projects have included an idea that may save lives and another that saves time and energy.

"We find the right materials, do the research and come up with a concept," said Daniel Fields, director of the center.

"We realized that there were no resources for the individual inventor. They were an underserved population who had nowhere to go. EMU was a natural fit," said Philip Rufe, an instructor with the center. Individuals feel more comfortable coming to EMU than a profit-making center, he said, because it can save money and they are confident that the University won't steal their ideas.

Dr. Hadi Piraka, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Livonia, thought about developing a life-saving medical device for women with post-partum hemorrhaging, but never got beyond the first stage.

That was until he saw an Internet ad for EMU's center.

Piraka called the center and received the help he needed to kick start the project. He discussed the idea and explained to Fields and Rufe how he envisioned the device functioning.

"Post-partum hemorrhaging is the number one cause of death for pregnant women in third-world countries," said Piraka. "It's very terrifying and horrifying and doctors can't do much about it."

Piraka said his tube with a balloon at the end can help stop bleeding within the uterus. The balloon is inflated with a saline solution to compress the balloon against the uterine wall, thus stopping any bleeding.   

With that information, Fields developed an outline of what the center would do to produce a rough first model or prototype, and how much the project would cost. Rufe worked with Piraka throughout the life of the project. Field estimated that the balloon project would be twice as expensive at a private facility.

Rufe is the patent agent who researches previous patents to determine whether someone has already patented the idea or not. If the idea is new, the center develops it.

Even after a client has a patent on their invention, they can come back to the center and have the model changed. Fields refines an invention so it functions properly, runs smoothly and has a pleasing overall appearance.

"Sometimes we throw out the prototype and start over. We could average from 1-20 prototypes," said Fields, who produced 18 prototypes of the inter-uterine balloon,

"That's the magic of what we do," said Fields.   "And if it doesn't work (the first time), we'll do something else."

Sometimes only a computer-aided design (CAD) model needs to be built to find out if the design is doable. Piraka needed a prototype for his clinical trials, said Fields.

Another center project helps ease the task of exercising a pet.

"I had two crazy Sheltie dogs that just ran me ragged," said Janet Brown-Smith, a Plymouth hairdresser. Her solution was the idea for a new pet toy.

The toy is a fiberglass rod, covered with braided nylon, which is tethered to a rope with an attached stuffed toy at the end. By swinging the handle and twirling the rod, the toy moves causing animals to run and jump for the toy.

The EMU center designed an ergonomic handle that a friend with hand problems suggested to Brown-Smith. The handle enables people with difficulty gripping or arthritis to use the toy easily so they can play with and exercise their pets.

"It took five months to design and complete an ergonomically-correct handle," said Fields.

The Brown-Smith idea has sold more than 300 units.

In a typical year, Rufe estimated that the center takes on some 20 projects. Some take longer than others because the individual doesn't have the money right away, loses interest in the project, gets busy at work, has family issues or the center doesn't have the equipment to do the job.

"Sometimes life just seeps in," said Fields.

Piraka's project has been patented and is currently being produced by a medical device company that can modify the design if clinical testing determines a change is necessary. Piraka was so pleased with his experience that he has two other ideas at the center.

"I am very happy with the work of EMU's center. I was really lucky to find them," said Piraka.

Working with the community and providing education and learning experiences are the objectives of the center. At any one time, there are about 15 students who work at the center as a class project, senior project or independent study, said Rufe.

For more information, log on to www.emich.edu/cprd or contact Fields at 734.487.2040.

Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their careers and lives, and to be better citizens.


Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.

Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.

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