Young Researchers to Pitch Innovative Ideas in BEAR Cage


On Monday, May 22, the ATS Drug/Device, Discovery and Development Committee will award early-stage investigators who submitted highly innovative, translational, human-focused research proposals with a total of $15,000 in prizes during the International Conference. 

The ninth annual Building Education to Advance Research (BEAR) Cage invites three finalists to present their research and inventive ideas for live judging from 2–4 p.m. ET in the Medium Theater, Booth 1643, of the Exhibit Hall inside Halls A-B of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The first-place winner will receive $10,000, and the two runners-up will receive $2,500 each. 

This year’s competitors include:

  • Marco Almeda, MD, Combined Pediatric Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine Fellowship, Riley Hospital for Children and IU Associated Hospitals, presenting “A novel technology for measurement of pediatric aspiration”
  • Ananth Charya, MD, MS, assistant professor of medicine-transplant pulmonology, University of Maryland of Medicine, presenting “PERsonalized Monitoring of Immunosuppression in Transplantation (PERMIT) Study”
  • Sreyankar Nandy, PhD, instructor of pulmonary and critical care medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, presenting “Endobronchial Optical Coherence Tomography (EB-OCT): A Novel Imaging Technique for Early Microscopic Diagnosis and Monitoring of Interstitial Lung Disease”
Marco Almeda, MD
Marco Almeda, MD
Ananth Charya, MD, MS
Ananth Charya, MD, MS
Sreyankar Nandy, PhD
Sreyankar Nandy, PhD

“The goal is to target people who are earlier in their careers because there are a lot of ideas percolating,” said Josh Fessel, MD, PhD, BEAR Cage co-chair and senior clinical advisor in the Division of Clinical Innovation at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health. “Your research program may not be fully differentiated yet, and that’s also where a little bit of support can have a big impact on the development of an idea.”

Dr. Fessel
Josh Fessel, MD, PhD

Dr. Fessel and BEAR Cage Co-Chair Nina Patel, MD, emphasize that the prize money is not grant funding, giving the winners discretion on how it is spent.

“This is funding ideas that are innovative but not yet fleshed out into fully formed grant proposals, in part because they are a little outside of the box,” said Dr. Patel, clinical program leader, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals.

The DDDD Committee reviews the applications each winter, selecting three finalists to share their ideas at the International Conference. Each finalist has 10 minutes to present their findings, then the judges have 10 minutes to query the finalist on their research. Finally, the audience has 10 minutes to ask the presenter questions about their project. This format challenges all involved to approach the development of new ideas differently. 

“It’s not this closed room where people debate the merits and flaws of your application,” Dr. Fessel said. “It’s right out in the open where everybody can participate in the process, and that’s the whole point. You get questions from the judges; you get questions from the audience. It’s a very dynamic back-and-forth.”

Nina Patel, MD
Nina Patel, MD

As BEAR Cage Co-Chair, Dr. Fessel moderates the live event, but he has experience as a competitor, too. He won the first BEAR Cage with his pitch for a closed-loop system to detect the potential for and prevent the aspiration of substances from the stomach in inpatients.

The recipe for BEAR Cage success is identifying a compelling problem and then clearly communicating an exciting way of approaching it, he said. Brevity and clarity are key, too. 

“Because it’s a brief proposal, they have to be very clear on what it is they’re trying to do,” Dr. Patel said. 

The co-chairs recruit innovative minds from industry and academia to serve as judges. 

“If we’re going to be asking the participants to be thinking really innovatively, at the bleeding edge of whatever their project area is, we want judges who are similarly forward-looking,” Dr. Fessel said.

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