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UCSF Student Wins Competition for Invention of Instrument that Measures Pain Levels

(Adapted from a National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation news release) John Dolan, DDS, a graduate student in the University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry, is the 2007 graduate winner of the Collegiate Inventors Competition, a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation. Dolan's invention, called the Dolognawmeter, measures pain in animals that are used in the testing of painkillers. He receives a $15,000 prize, and his advisor, Brian Schmidt, DDS, MD, PhD, receives $5,000. Dolan, 38, presented his invention to a final panel of eight judges, including inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. His Dolognawmeter came about when he realized that one of the greatest obstacles to improved pain medication was the inability to measure pain in experimental animals. Dolan created a device that could measure gnawing in animals by taking advantage of an instinct observed in rodents. If a mouse is placed in a narrow tube with an obstacle at the end, it will instinctively gnaw at the obstacle to escape. Dolan's device automatically records the time required for a mouse to gnaw through a series of dowels obstructing exit from a tube. Slower gnawing means greater pain, providing Dolan with a way to study the effectiveness of painkillers. The apparatus is inexpensive, compact and simple, and multiple Dolognawmeters can be used at the same time. Since mice are nocturnal, the device is employed inside a standard research cage at night since no operator observation is required. Dolan says the device has the potential to revolutionize the way that both analgesics and anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs) are tested. "Since confinement anxiety motivates the mouse to gnaw, a Dolognawmeter will also allow for a simple, cheap and objective method to test new anxiolytics in animals. That alone makes the device worth its weight in gold," says Dolan. Dolan began his education in anthropology, earning a BS from Montana State University and an MA from the University of California, Berkeley. While working toward his PhD in anthropology he was inspired by studies demonstrating that a person's creativity often peaks by the late twenties or early thirties. Upon learning this, he put aside his graduate work, purchased a used Tungsten Inert Gas welder from an Oakland shipyard and became an artist for five years. He says, "My greatest skill since childhood has been artistic mechanical design." In 2003 he combined his passion for material sciences and the application of mechanical principles to human problems and entered dental school. At the same time, he began research into the mechanisms of oral and facial pain. He earned his DDS in 2007 and is currently in a postgraduate program in oral and craniofacial sciences at UCSF. Final judging took place on Oct. 31, with four undergraduate teams competing for the $15,000 prize, seven graduate teams competing for a $15,000 prize, and all eleven teams competing for the $25,000 grand prize. The eleven teams each made presentations before the final panel of judges. In total, over 100 entries from over 70 colleges and universities were received for this year's competition. A first round of judges evaluated entries in order to select the eleven finalists, assessing each entry on the originality of the new idea, process, or technology, as well as the potential value and usefulness to society. The Collegiate Inventors Competition is designed to encourage college students to be active in science, engineering, mathematics, technology, and creative invention. This prestigious challenge recognizes and rewards the innovations, discoveries, and research by college and university students and their advisors for projects leading to inventions that can be patented. Introduced by the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990, the Collegiate Inventors Competition has annually rewarded individuals or teams for their innovative work and scientific achievement through the help of its sponsors. The National Inventors Hall of Fame is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recognizing, honoring, and encouraging invention and creativity. The primary activity of the Hall of Fame is honoring the men and women responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social, and economic progress possible. Founded in 1973, the Hall of Fame now makes its permanent home in Akron, Ohio. Related Links: Collegiate Inventors Competition National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation, Inc. UCSF School of Dentistry