Medical Innovation, Research and Entrepreneurship (MIRE) program ignites high-schoolers’ interest in biotech entrepreneurial field

For two weeks this summer, Leanne Ho, a senior at Oxford Academy in Cypress, immersed herself in the fascinating world of biotechnology and medical device innovation and entrepreneurship.

She was one of 57 sophomore through senior high school students from five different Orange County school districts who participated in the Medical, Innovation, Research and Entrepreneurship (MIRE) program, a joint project of the CHOC Children’s Research Institute, The Young Entrepreneurs OC, and  University Lab Partners .

Leanne led a team of other STEM-motivated high schoolers on a final project: pitching a business idea to a panel of experts that included physicians, investors, university professors and biotech entrepreneurs.

Her team came up with the idea of MedMonkey, an app designed to encourage adolescents living with epilepsy to take their prescribed medications on time by interacting with an animated chimpanzee.

MedMonkey won the final pitch competition and a scholarship to a hands-on laboratory training course at University Lab Partners,  a nonprofit wet lab and medical technology incubator in Irvine.

MedMonkey app
MedMonkey is an app designed to encourage adolescents living with epilepsy to take their prescribed medications on time by interacting with an animated chimpanzee

With her scholarship, Leanne completed the hands-on laboratory training following the MIRE course and earned her digital certification through UCI’s Department of Continuing Education in Molecular Biology Laboratory Techniques. With her new certification, Leanne was able to secure an internship at University Lab Partners this fall.

“Every speaker in the program had different experiences in business, law, research, engineering and science, and it was interesting to learn how the fields were connected to each other and relate back to medicine,” Leanne says of the summer program.

Now, this fall, the program has expanded with 120 high school participants.

Real-world view

Speakers in the fall MIRE program include several Orange County leaders in innovation and medicine who volunteer their time and expertise to give the students a real-world view of the multidisciplinary skills needed to thrive in the biotech entrepreneurial world.

Students immerse themselves in research activities related to bioscience, engineering and medicine. They learn how technology can support diagnosis and treatment plans and learn how environmental factors influence pediatric health.

MIRE is intended to educate the next generation of researchers and help prepare them for the ongoing bioscience and data revolution.

“The CHOC Research Institute wants to inspire the next generation of investigators and STEM leaders in healthcare innovation, potentially laying the groundwork for great strides in translational science, medical device development and basic science research,” says Dr. Terence Sanger, CHOC’s vice president of research and chief scientific officer.

The fall MIRE session will focus on research and allow students to explore pediatric clinical needs. Students will also learn about ethical conduct in research and how to frame a research question, explains Nadine Afari, manager of research programs at CHOC.

The MIRE program is one of many projects that will launch from the partnership between CHOC’s Research Institute and University Lab Partners.

The effort brings together clinical skills, business development skills, hospital management, technology strategy, product ideation, and technology development to help support the larger Orange County biotech and medtech community.

“This immersive program transforms career exploration and discovery for Orange County students interested in pursuing an exciting career in innovation,” says Karin Koch, ecosystem director at University Lab Partners.

One of the goals of MIRE is to create a talent pipeline for the next generation of biotech innovators in the life sciences industry.

The bioscience industry represents the unique intersection of key building blocks for societal and economic progress – extremely high levels of innovation that are saving and improving lives through advancements in biomedical, energy and advanced food and industrial technologies; and expanding a wide mix of employment opportunities with wages and incomes that support a high standard of living, Koch says.

The MIRE program is delivered through the North Orange County ROP (NOCROP) and College and Career Advantage in South Orange County, with student participants getting 50 hours of instruction; 10 hours of dedicated mentorship; and 20 hours of clinical needs assessments, project proposals/presentations, literature reviews and intellectual property challenges. Students earn 2.5 University of California-transferrable credits for their participation.

“By connecting our most precious commodity, our students, to businesses and industry leaders who will invest in them, this partnership benefits us all,” says Terri Giamarino, superintendent of NOCROP. “We want our students to remain in Orange County and be a part of our growth and sustainability.”

Leanne, who plans to study biology in college, said the program opened her eyes to many future career opportunities.

“I was able to create a new understanding and expand on what I already know about medicine,” said Leanne, who for now is interested in a possible career in forensic science.

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