Nathan Poulin, 27, with an early prototype of a medical device he invented. Photo courtesy of Nathan Poulin

Nathan Poulin was in graduate school at the University of California, San Francisco, getting his master’s degree in biomedical imaging, when he came up with an early idea for a medical device that could potentially revolutionize the way doctors help stroke patients, handle coronary problems or deal with some medical procedures.

Three years later, he’s working to get his invention to market.

It’s an exciting time — and a lot of hard work — for the 2010 Saint Dominic Regional High School (now Saint Dominic Academy) grad. But he sees life-saving potential in his little device.

And, soon, hospitals may, too.

Name: Nathan D. Poulin

Age: 27


Hometown: I grew up in Lewiston, Auburn and Minot

Job: Currently an imaging analyst working on clinical trials (in California)

What have you invented? You can think of it like a flexible wire antenna that navigates through veins and arteries. But the breakthrough of the invention includes the use of a few more embedded components which provide some essential functions.

What does the device do? While under MRI, our antenna-like tool can take fast, high-resolution images. Deep vascular tissue is not imaged well with traditional diagnostic imaging, but this device will make these tissues visible throughout crucial points during procedures. There is also a mechanism to track the tip of the device so that guidance to target regions is safe and quick.

Do you think it could save lives? Yes. For example, many patients are not able to receive therapy for ischemic stroke, and this device would be able to reach more of these patients. For those who do have treatment for stroke, often the full clot cannot be removed, and this would help to remove the complete obstruction safely. There are other procedures as well, such as coronary intervention and others, where this device could transform therapy.

How did you come up with the idea? I remember seeing a show where a physician tried removing a clot from a child, and he felt distressed because he thought he might have done more damage. I got interested in the tools and methods for interventional procedures, and when I went to graduate school, linked up with a group working on using MRI for interventional procedures. It did not take me long to realize that there are ways to tie interventional therapy more closely with diagnostic imaging, especially MRI. I had an initial idea before I was about to graduate and have had a series of ideas since then.


Is it hard to get a new medical device to market? Just getting in the game is difficult, especially if you are not well-connected and are unknown in the medtech community. These are inevitable challenges when innovating early in one’s career. But generally speaking, medical device development involves regulatory hurdles, unlike consumer goods or software, so launching a product can take longer. Although, we have not made it that far yet, so we are looking ahead at the future challenges.

It’s 10 years from now. Where do you picture this device? If we can address the challenges as they come, then in that time frame, the device will have its place in the clinic and will be used by physicians around the world. Perhaps we will be developing other new technologies.

What’s your next step? I am attending a healthcare innovation boot camp at MIT and Harvard Medical School this June, where I will learn how to develop a new venture in the health care space. After that, I am looking to secure capital through different routes so that we can build up the company and develop the technology.

Do you see yourself as an inventor? Absolutely. I have been driven to be at the frontier and come up with something new that could help a lot of people. I love playing with ideas and seeing where things are limited or should change for the better. But as an innovator, I think innovation goes beyond just inventing. One has to also go out into the world and marketplace to see if they can make a vision a reality.

Advice for young people who have an idea to improve medicine? I am still going through the process, but so far, I would say that you have to have thick skin and take action early on and persistently, even if you do not have all of the details worked out.

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