The Stitch

Baylor surgeons: Clinicians and inventors

Baylor College of Medicine surgeons do more than surgery. Most do work in the College’s other mission areas of research and education as well. But in addition, several are inventors too.

The Interdisciplinary Surgical Technology and Innovation Center (INSTINCT) program, started by heart surgeon and inventor Dr. Billy Cohn, supports department faculty, residents and others to take their ideas from an early concept all the way to prototypes, trials and patenting.

“Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Medical Center as a whole has an incredible legacy of innovation,” says Cohn, professor in the Division of Cardiothoracic Transplantation and Circulatory Support in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery. “Some of the most important innovations in cardiovascular surgery and in general surgery have come out of Houston. For example, the Dacron graft that replaces a blood vessel with a fabric tube. Michael DeBakey sat down at his wife’s sewing machine to sew the first grafts, did studies to show that they had merit, and now they have saved 25 million lives and limbs.”

Cohn started INSTINCT to help surgeons and others in the department be connected with mentors, financial resources, design support, administrative help and more.

“Our interest in starting INSTINCT is to create a platform where members of our department from medical students all the way up to faculty can partake in the ability to have an idea, figure out how to change it into a device or an invention or new therapy, and at the end of the day make it available to patients,” says Dr. Todd Rosengart, professor and chair of the Michael E. Debakey Department of Surgery.

Several surgeons have used the resources and help of INSTINCT to further their ideas.

12 members of INSTINCT pose as a group

In fact, last spring, INSTINCT held the department’s first-ever Shark Tank, a competition to build engagement in innovation and commercialization of ideas. The Shark Tank top award was $25,000 given to the winning innovators to assist them in their product development. The event included two rounds of competition with 10 teams of scientists, students and surgeons who pitched their ideas and products to a group of savvy shark investors drawn from the Department of Surgery. The Shark Tank judging panel included inventors from the Department of Surgery, other Baylor departments and commercialization leaders from the Texas Medical Center Innovations Center.

As on the Shark Tank television show, inventor teams presented a variety of business ideas and products ranging from medical devices at prototype stage to drug delivery systems that have been tested in research for years and then answered questions from the sharks.


The winning team, Inspectra Diagnostics, presented a revolutionary approach to thyroid testing. Their diagnostic test uses mass spectrometry imaging and machine learning to aid in the diagnosis of thyroid nodules. This new testing approach is faster and less expensive than alternative testing or surgical removal of the thyroid. It also helps patients avoid lifelong side effects caused by partial thyroid removal.

Finalist Teams

Other finalist teams included CANARY Analytics, a team that pitched software that uses ICU data and machine learning combined with artificial intelligence to prevent adverse events after surgery, and CO2 Cautery, an improved electrocautery tool that reduces tissue dissection time by at least 40 percent.

In addition to Shark Tank, INSTINCT offers a variety of events, funding, mentoring and more to encourage and aid surgeon-inventors in the development of their ideas:

Think Tanks are informal meetings between surgeons, scientists and businesspeople to talk about ideas, solutions, patenting and more.

The Idea Award is an award up to $10,000 meant for the beginning stages of prototyping and researching if there is value in an idea.

If you want to get involved or learn more, email

Learn about Baylor Medicine Surgery

By Tiffany Harston, communications associate with the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery

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