Spotlight: Eric Chehab, Ph.D., Ferolyn Fellow

Seemingly intractable issues often have simple, elegant solutions when approached with creativity. That’s what Eric Chehab, Ph.D., has found in his work designing products that solve problems in neonatal care.

As the newest addition to the Ferolyn Fellowship class, he has already attained notable accomplishments in his young career, including co-founding and spearheading Novonate.

Gaining an early passion for healthcare

Eric had always been engineering-minded, but had not identified a potential path until he learned about the field of bioengineering while attending the University of California San Diego (UCSD). “I had an early taste for the industry as an engineering intern at SeaSpine and later as a research assistant at the UCSD Skeletal Muscle Research Center. I enjoyed applying my skills toward a concrete and meaningful project that would eventually benefit patients,” said Eric.

His desire to learn more about the field led him to Stanford University, where he received his M.S. and later Ph.D. in Bioengineering. Here he became more involved in the field, benefiting from taking the courses offered by the Stanford Biodesign program and acting as a teaching assistant and mentor; consulting for Niveus Medical, an eventual Fogarty Institute graduate; and working within the Stanford BioMotion Lab on identifying biomechanical and biological markers to predict the initiation and progression of knee osteoarthritis as part of his doctoral dissertation.

“Through these projects, I just started falling in love with the medical device industry and all the people involved in this field,” said Eric.

Launching a company that meets a large unmet need 

While at Stanford, he worked with a team of students, faculty, engineers and physicians to invent LifeBubble, a simple device that secures and protects the insertion site of umbilical cord catheters for babies in intensive care. What started as a part-time endeavor became a full-time role as co-founder and CEO as the company spun out of Stanford as Novonate.

The idea behind LifeBubble came when the team learned how umbilical cord catheters, the lifeline that provides nutrients and medication to neonates in the ICU, were secured. Previously, the catheters could only be secured with tape and adhesives as “arts-and-crafts projects” that completely failed to protect the insertion site, increasing the risk of catheter migration and infection. Researchers have found that up to two-thirds of umbilical venous catheters migrate after placement; 20 percent of neonates develop catheter-related complications; and 95 percent have poorly positioned catheters, which may be associated with necrotizing enterocolitis, pericardial effusion and infections.

LifeBubble is a sterile silicone product that sits over the umbilical catheter insertion site, providing an unparalleled level of protection and catheter stabilization while simultaneously allowing for natural desiccation of the stump. “We designed a custom-shaped device that protects the site, secures the catheters and can easily be adjusted,” said Eric. “While our market is very targeted, we are very proud of our ability to address such a critical clinical need, and I am very grateful for the support we have received over the years from the Stanford community.”

The device was recently commercialized and has already been used to protect critically ill newborn babies in two hospitals. Novonate is working towards increasing clinical use by expanding to additional hospitals and is overseeing a clinical study on catheter migration that assesses the rate of migration with and without LifeBubble.

Joining the Ferolyn Fellowship

Eric was recommended to the program by James Wall, MD, a surgeon, educator and physician entrepreneur, who has also been an integral part of Novonate.

As often happens at the Institute, he found himself coming full circle when he was assigned to Kate Garrett, a full-time Ferolyn Fellowship mentor, assistant director of Stanford Biodesign and general partner at Sonder Capital. Eric knew Kate through his work at Stanford and had periodically sought her advice on best practices to advance the company.

“I was very fortunate to briefly meet Ferolyn while I was at Stanford, and I have since seen first-hand how the program created in her name has benefited several professionals with whom I have interacted during my studies and career,” said Eric. “I look forward to working with Kate – as well as the other Fellows – and advancing my growth as a leader. When you work with a startup, you are singularly focused on the daily challenges and opportunities of building a company, and this program will help me develop the skills needed to create a lasting career in this industry.”

A San Francisco-native, Eric enjoys time with his family, cheering on the local sports teams, exploring the world with his fiancée and shooting photos as an amateur photographer.

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