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Former medical resident takes hiatus to market his innovative, human-like artificial skin

Former dermatology resident Keoni Nguyen fully intends to practice medicine someday. But right now, all his time is taken up with his invention: an innovative synthetic skin that has a number of large biomedical companies chomping at the bit.

Dayton-based Dermsurg Scientific is working feverishly to fill orders for the Il Duomo, a model of a human head over which is laid Nguyen's patented, human-like system of synthetic skin, muscles, nerves, fat and cartilage.

Using an assembly team of five, the company is building models for elite clients like the Mayo Clinic, Walter Reed Hospital and Ethicon, Nguyen says. He adds that Johnson & Johnson has asked for a custom model that can be used with a new facelift device the company is planning to debut in Europe later this year.

Heady stuff for the former Ohio University medical resident who got tired of doing sutures on pigs feet.

As students and well into the residency of most dermatologists, getting a chance to to work on real human skin is rare, Nguyen says. Other synthetics are also a poor substitute for real skin, he says. He sees his product as ideal for training the next generation of dermatologists and surgeons.

"I took the last three years off," he says. "The first year I did a lot of research on the properties of the skin and got a provisional patent. But I needed more money because I was running out and couldn't sell any more of my toys."

Nguyen says he financed his patent application by selling his prized carbon-frame time trial bike, and researched and wrote the provisional patent himself because he couldn't afford a lawyer. Eventually, Dr. Thomas Olsen, a Wright State University dermatology professor who also runs the Dermatopathology Laboratory of Central States learned about his work.

"So he gave me a grant to provide me with what I needed to get this thing to where it is today."

Other help has come from the Dayton Development Coalition, which has provided funding to help Dermsurg finish demonstration units, hire employees to evolve its management team, move from its current location to its own space and develop better molds for the Il Duomo. The Coalition also provided funds to embed an entrepreneur in residents to help Nguyen develop a business plan and investment summary.

As for practicing medicine someday, Nguyen says, "that's the whole point, I want to go back. This whole thing started because of my passion for it. If I didn't have the passion for it it never would have been created. My passion is to teach and contribute something to medicine."

Source: Keoni Nguyen, DermSurg
Writer: Gene Monteith
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