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Inventor wants to turn mosquito bites into a business

Inventor Torben Lenau is developing a new needle inspired by the stinging proboscis of mosquitos. A partnership with medtech company ConvaTec that began at the Danish IP Fair will help turn the idea into a reality.
Investor Torben Lenau has developed a polymer needle inspired by the stinging proboscis of mosquitos. Photos: Hans Søndergaard/Colourbox

Publiceret: 30.05.2018
Af Peter G. H. Madsen mail

Why do doctors and nurses use steel hypodermic needles to penetrate skin when a mosquito does the same thing with its tiny proboscis?

This was the big question for inventor and associate professor of mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). Almost ten years ago, he decided to investigate whether it would be possible to replace hypodermic needles made of steel with plastic needles that, like the proboscis of mosquitoes, are pliable.

“There are lots of disadvantages to steel needles. They’re sharp and dangerous and therefore have to be disposed of in a yellow container after use. Steel needles cannot be used during scans because they have magnetic properties. And what’s more, lots of people are afraid of them – there’s something psychological about seeing metal,” says Getting a product onto the market is like pulling teeth.

His solution is a hypodermic needle made of plastic – a so-called polymer needle. It is can both be bent and used in a scanner, it is soft and flexible and can be thrown in a regular waste container after use.
“Personally, I think it’s pretty ingenious,” says Torben Lenau.

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A good idea is not enough

But as is generally the case in medicine and medtech, there is a long way from conception to realisation of an idea. It can easily take ten years before the public is able to benefit from a good idea, says Torben Lenau.

“Even though you have a good idea, you face lots of hurdles. Getting a product onto the market is like pulling teeth,” he says.

However, for Torben Lenau, the road became a little shorter after participating in the Danish IP Fair at the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI).

What is unique about the IP Fair is that it provides an opportunity for inventors from Danish research institutions to meet potential investors and businesses. Here, he met medtech firm ConvaTec, which saw potential in an alternative to steel needles.

“I made a lot of really good contacts at the fair. And now ConvaTex and I are moving forwards. We will be developing the product and testing it on animals. Once we’ve proven that it doesn’t have negative effects on animals, we can take the next step and test it on humans. It’s a long but also very exciting process,” says Torben Lenau.

See also: Denmark is becoming more competitive but we can do more

Dragon’s Den at DI

Torben Lenau is far from the only one who has benefitted from the Danish IP Fair, which was held for the first time last spring and will take place again on 29 May this year.

The aim is for even more good Danish inventions to move from idea to production stage.

And this seems to be something that appeals to both inventors and businesses. This year, more than one hundred inventors are expected to make their way to Industriens Hus, and a wide range of businesses and investors will send their experts to size up the inventors and their inventions. In total, over five hundred participants are expected to attend.

“There is a whole lot of interest in the fair. This indicates that both inventors and businesses have realised that the fair is a really good opportunity to expand their network, bring inventions to the next level and – maybe – eventually create a good business,” says Senior Consultant at DI Jonas Orebo Pyndt.

If you ask the inventor of the “Polyneedle” Torben Lenau, there is no doubt that the IP Fair has something unique to offer.

“Inventors and businesses have the chance to size each other up and see whether there is something interesting here,” says Torben Lenau and adds:

“And my impression is that people are really open to helping.”

Grundfos: We’re always on the lookout for good ideas

One of the firms that participated last year and expects to return this year is Grundfos.

“We are always on the lookout for good ideas and good partners. We look for good ideas all over the world. But naturally, it is no disadvantage if the development of ideas happens close by. That’s why we choose to attend an event like the IP Fair,” says Group Vice President at Grundfos Lars Enevoldsen, who is in charge of research, technology and innovation.

Grundfos also takes part in order to get an impression of what researchers at Danish universities are currently working with, because even though Grundfos has partnerships with researchers at all Danish universities, they do not have a complete picture of all the research that goes on.

“We are often overwhelmed by how much is happening and all the good inventions that come out of it. There’s a whole lot going on at the research institutions,” says Lars Enevoldsen.

Good collaborations between universities and business

A survey conducted by DI also shows that businesses are generally increasingly satisfied with their collaborations with Danish universities.
The survey, which is based on responses from approximately 300 businesses, shows that the percentage of firms that consider the collaboration to be “very good” or “good” has increased from 60% in 2014 to 80% in 2018.

Senior Consultant at DI Jonas Orebo Pyndt is pleased that there is such great satisfaction with collaborations.

“Businesses need new, ground-breaking research if they are to succeed in the international competition. The numbers here indicate that that is exactly what Danish universities provide,” he says.

A win-win situation

Senior Researcher Morten Jellesen from DTU has also been highly satisfied with the collaboration he set up with medtech firm Elos Medtech at last year’s IP Fair at DI.

Together with colleagues Thomas Lundin Christiansen and Marcel Somers, Morten Jellesen has invented a method for hardening titanium.

Until now, the problem with titanium has been its susceptibility to scratches. This made it difficult to use titanium in jewellery and the medtech industry. But Jellesen & Co.’s invention makes it possible to harden titanium so that it can also be used contexts that demand that titanium does not affect its surroundings.

For Morten Jellesen, it is immensely satisfying see the invention being used in “real products”, an achievement he attributes in no small part to the meeting with Elos Medtech at the IP Fair.

“Something happens when you meet face to face. We’ve established a really good collaboration that we believe will result in a win-win situation for all parties,” says Morten Jellesen.

What is the IP Fair?

Each year, Danish research institutions host the Danish IP Fair, where businesses and investors interested in new inventions and technologies can network and seek out new business opportunities.

The one-day event offers a packed programme with over 100 technology cases and inventions from Danish universities and hospitals, pitches on stage from potential and previous start-ups, professional networking opportunities in the form of one-on-one meetings with researchers, business developers and start-ups, as well as short presentations and open showcasing of new inventions.


Getting a product onto the market is like pulling teeth.
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PUBLISHED: 5/30/2018 LAST MODIFIED: 5/30/2018