Posted on 4/4/2013. Interview by Howie Rhee
Tell us about yourself
Tell us about your time at Duke, what were you involved in?
Life has been busy, but wonderful here! I began Duke University in the fall of 2008 to study biomedical engineering with Dr. Fan Yuan and work with glaucoma experts at the Duke Eye Center. Over my almost 5 years here, I have published 10 abstracts, 5 papers, and 1 editorial, given 7 scientific talks, and been awarded the Kewaunee Student Achievement Award in 2012. On the business side of things, I consulted for Ivantis, a company developing a microstent for glaucoma treatment. I also have co-founded a start-up company, Camras Vision, to develop my father’s and my glaucoma shunt. I submitted my third patent in 2009 and am now collaborating with Drs. Klitzman, Allingham, and Asrani to further develop this product. Just this past year, my company has received Phase I small business grants from the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). I serve as the Project Director of the NIH grant and Principal Investigator of the NSF grant. We plan to submit for Phase II funding this year.
What's your major/program and when will you be graduating? Tell us something about your educational experience at Duke.
I am in the Biomedical Engineering PhD program at Duke and will be graduating this May. When I first came here, I hoped to work on my glaucoma shunt as my PhD thesis; therefore, I incorporated as Eye Innovations to apply for grants to fund this work. However, due to potential issues with conflict of interest and intellectual property rights, I pursued an entire different topic for my thesis. Simultaneously, I got involved with the entrepreneurship program to further develop my device and was lucky to meet my business partner Roberto Alfaro. We re-incorporated as Camras Vision in honor of my late father in 2010. As a Center of Biological and Tissue Engineering (CBTE) fellow, I was allowed to take an industry internship to work at my company as a Duke PhD student.
Tell us about your idea.
Eye pressure cannot be adequately controlled with existing surgical treatments mainly due to unpredictable tissue response in the current drainage site. Therefore, my father and I came up with a new surgical approach and novel device to circumvent the issues with the traditional site of drainage, leading to predictable, adjustable, and controllable outcomes.
How did you come up with your idea? When did you come up with it?
My father Carl Camras, a famous glaucoma surgeon/researcher and Chairman of Ophthalmology at University of Nebraska Medical Center, asked me if I wanted to help him develop a device for a new surgical approach that would transform glaucoma therapy. Being a BME undergraduate in a glaucoma research lab, I jumped at the opportunity! (Little did I know that the project I started as a 19 year old would shape my future the way it has...) With that, we joined forces. I started presenting engineering drawings to him and we would hash out the potential problems with design and how best to optimize its function. I also read up on the existing intellectual property to ensure its novelty. Finally, the Camras Shunt was created and we filed our first patent soon afterwards.
How did you meet your team members?
I met my business partner Roberto Alfaro through the P4E program at Fuqua in 2010. We have been working as partners ever since then. I interviewed with Dr. Bruce Klitzman when I came for BME recruitment in 2008. We spoke about my implant and shared a passion for improving glaucoma surgery. However, at that time, Dr. Klitzman was working with Drs. Asrani and Allingham at the Eye Center on a different glaucoma shunt and felt that it may be a conflict of interest to have me in his laboratory. Luckily, their shunt was FDA approved and Drs. Klitzman, Allingham, Asrani, and I began working together in 2011. Being friends with my father for years, Drs. Allingham and Asrani have been very kind and supportive to me for my entire time at Duke. I feel very lucky to have an entire group devoted to this effort. We will make this happen!!
How has the Duke Start-Up Challenge been helpful to you?
Duke Start-Up Challenge has been a great opportunity for us to get feedback on how investors may view us. Also, if we win the $50K prize, we will receive 50% matching funds from the NSF. These funds will be very important to continue our preclinical testing, so we will be ready for first-in-man studies.
The Duke Start-Up Challenge provides a lot of feedback from over 100 judges. Can you talk about that experience of reviewing the feedback?
I was impressed with the judges. There were some that seem to be true experts in the field. It is a privilege to have such accomplished individuals review our work and be willing to meet us outside of this competition.
Did you connect with any judges for advice, and if so, who were they and was it helpful?
We have not done so at this time, but will after the competition.
What advice do you have for Duke students that are thinking of starting a company?
Perseverance: It took me a long time to get here and I still have a way to go. I explored many licenses, partnerships, collaborations, and agreements that failed to materialized, but I didn't give up. Even after my father died in 2009, I knew that I had to continue.
Things will happen that you will never expect but you must take it on yourself to be the champion of your idea and push forward even when it seems impossible.
Want more? Watch the videos and read the other interviews for all of the Round 3 teams in the Duke Start-Up Challenge
And join us for the Grand Finale with David Cummings ’02 for the 14th Annual Duke Start-Up Challenge on Thursday, April 11th, 2013 at 7:30pm ET at Fuqua’s Geneen Auditorium. RSVP on Facebook
Not able to attend in person? Watch the livestream on Duke’s YouTube channel.