During his sophomore year in high school, Alex DiBuono was diagnosed with leukemia. After two years of chemotherapy, his doctors at UMass Medical Center pronounced him cancer-free.
But just before New Year’s Day 2016, as he was about to start the second semester of his junior year as an honors electrical engineering major, the cancer returned. This time, he needed a bone marrow transplant.
DiBuono says he was luckier than many leukemia patients. A 31-year-old German woman turned out to be a perfect match as a donor. In May 2016, after months of chemo and radiation to kill off his own bone marrow, he had the transplant. Still, he battled infections and graft-versus-host disease, in which the donor's immune cells attack the patient's normal cells, before he was able to return to classes in spring 2017.
When it was time for DiBuono to begin his Honors College capstone project, he didn’t need to look far for a topic.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals, and I recognized so many things in hospitals could be improved,” he says. “I decided to ask my nurses, ‘If you could have anything engineered to make your job easier, what would it be?"
One nurse said she would love to get an early warning when a patient’s chemotherapy infusion bag is getting low and needs to be replaced, instead of a lot of loud beeping after the bag is empty. DiBuono thought that was a great idea, having been awakened frequently by loud beeping himself.
He switched to the entrepreneurial engineering capstone class, pitched his idea and found two business students and two computer science students to help him make it a reality.
The result: The IV Alert system, a prototype device that monitors the amount of fluid in an infusion bag and is connected to software at the nursing station. The software displays a small clock for each patient that turns from green to yellow to red as the percentage of intravenous fluid left in the bag gets lower.
DiBuono graduated in December and started work as a product development engineer at Allegro Microsystems in Manchester, N.H. He also hopes to commercialize his monitoring device and software.
But for now, he’s just trying to get his team back together for a visit to Boston Children’s Hospital to demonstrate the IV Alert system.
“I became really close with my nurses and doctors. They were like a second family to me, and I wanted to do something more than say ‘Thank you,’ because they saved my life.”