Northwell Health is investing up to $1 million to fund two employee projects that were highlighted in the health system’s “2023 Innovation Challenge.”

The two winning projects will receive for research and development as their teams aim to advance further.

This year, as part of the challenge’s “Big Ideas Showcase,” the winners aim to tackle cancer care with an artificial intelligence solution, and to deploy bioelectronic medicine treatment for stroke.

Leading the work in cancer care are Dr. Daniel King, assistant professor at the Institute of Cancer Research at the Feinstein Institutes, and Dr. Sandeep Nadella, gastroenterologist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.

And driving the research for bioelectronic medicine treatment for stroke are Chunyan Li,  an associate professor at the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institutes, and Dr. Timothy White, chief resident at the Department of Neurosurgery at North Shore University Hospital.

“Innovation and creativity are the essence of good organizations, and at Northwell we take pride in fostering a culture that promotes our team members who strive to advance science and the delivery of care,” Michael Dowling, Northwell Health president and CEO, said in a statement about this year’s challenge.

This year, 84 projects were submitted, and screened by a panel of judges. This year’s judges included Bunny Ellerin, a digital-health expert; Dr. Brenton Fargnoli, managing partner at AlleyCorp Healthcare, an early stage investor in healthcare companies; Alissa Hsu Lynch, a health-tech executive; and Tom Manning, executive chairman of Aegis Ventures and chairman of Ascertain, the joint venture between between Aegis and Northwell.

“All of these submissions represent the very best ideas and novel approaches Northwell, and its talent, are pursuing to tackle some of health care’s biggest issues,” Dowling said.

Launched six years ago, the challenge has generated Northwell funding for 13 projects.

“Innovation is a team sport at Northwell. Our core strength comes from the curiosity and ingenuity of our 83,000 team members,” Dr. Jason Naidich, senior vice president and chief innovation officer at Northwell, said in a statement.

“The finalists showcased here today exemplify the way in which interdisciplinary teams are especially capable of developing novel approaches and transformative solutions that will improve patient care,” Naidich added.

King and Nadella, along with Tiffany Zavadsky, created iNav: AI-Driven Identification and Navigation for Cancer Patients. It’s an AI-enabled solution to identify and navigate both pre-diagnosed and newly diagnosed cancer patients to cancer care, including access to novel clinical trials.

“This feels like a new beginning,” King said in a statement. “We recognized that one of the key problems in oncology is that we’re not able to navigate patients to care properly and quickly. What we can do with iNav is use technology to identify patients much earlier than we did before and promptly send them to get the correct care they need.”

Li and White launched StrokeFighter: Novel Bioelectronic Therapy for Acute Ischemic Stroke. This therapy is designed to alleviate the negative effects of acute ischemic stroke – that is, a lack of blood flow to the brain – while also preventing and treating stroke-induced vascular cognitive impairments through targeted electrical stimulation of the trigeminal nerve. The project team spent the last five years to optimizing trigeminal nerve stimulation parameters by using a unique wrap-around technique that could assist in early stroke treatment.

“This work comes from a very small lab, and I really appreciate this opportunity,” Li said in a statement. “Some people may not know about our work or what bioelectronic medicine is, but our research may one day help a lot of patients.”

Other members of the StrokeFighter team include Yousef Al-Abed, co-director of the Institute for Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institutes; Dr. Daniel Sciubba, senior vice president of neurosurgery at Northwell Health, and co-director of the Institute for Neurology and Neurosurgery at Northwell Health; Dr. Stavros Zanos, associate professor at the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institutes; Dr. Kevin Shah, chief resident of the department of neurosurgery at North Shore University Hospital; and Dr. Henry Woo, vice chairman and director of cerebrovascular neurosurgery at North Shore University Hospital.

Northwell Holdings, the for-profit venture investment arm of Northwell Health, works with doctors, scientists, staff, and entrepreneurs both in and out of the health system to advance the commercial potential for internal innovation and development of commercial joint ventures.

“Since 2017, the Innovation Challenge event has served as a wonderful forum to showcase the novel approaches towards improving care which are developed by our Northwell colleagues,” Richard Mulry, president and CEO of Northwell Holdings, said in a statement. “We are proud to partner with them to advance these solutions and extend their impact on the nature and delivery of care.”

Previous winners of the challenge have included a 3D imaging device to identify tissue pressure injuries early and a non-invasive bioelectronic medicine spleen stimulator to treat excessive bleeding. Past projects funded have included research into the first non-invasive diagnostic test for endometriosis, a therapeutic drug candidate as a potential treatment for HPV infection, real-time actionable data related to ED utilization, and the allocation of clinical resources and infrared thermography for early detection of tissue pressure injury.

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