For the first time, students at the Loudoun Academy of Engineering and Technology have worked with Leesburg-based
K2M Group Holdings, a global pioneer in developing innovative solutions for spine surgery, to practice real
world problem-solving skills and teamwork.
In a “Shark Tank”-style competition over several weeks, teams of five and six students focused on how to improve
diagnosis and treatment of scoliosis in adolescents. For the top eight competitive teams, three months of hard work
both in and outside of school culminated with Wednesday’s final project presentation and awards at K2M’s campus in
The first place project, “ScanScoli,” suggests utilizing technology from Google’s Project Tango, including specialized
camera hardware that can scan and dimension patient torsos through photography, rather than X-rays.
The project would expedite custom back brace fitting and enable the early detection necessary to eliminate a patient’s need for a
brace. Members of this team included Lina Alkarmi, Jay Chadha, Siva Indupuru, Pranavi Karnati and Esha Fateh.
“We were looking for the amount of creativity that went into their effort, the completeness of the project and also how
well reasoned the project was,” said Dave MacDonald, the senior vice president of operations for K2M, who was one
of seven judges and a primary organizer of the event. “All of [the projects] have commercial potential, I would say. The
ones that finished in the top three, I think all could be commercialized.”
Last February, 150 freshman students on nearly 30 teams ventured to K2M’s new Leesburg facility for a tour and an
introduction to their challenge: to research the challenges of scoliosis treatment and to develop a new product or
strategy to overcome the challenged. Eight teams were selected to present their projects to a panel of judges, all of
whom were executives and ranking officials at K2M.
Student teams primarily focused on issues surrounding the cumbersome, uncomfortable and expensive back brace
that adolescents often wear for as long as 23 hours a day for five years or more to treat scoliosis and avoid surgery.
According to student research, nearly four million Americans have been diagnosed with scoliosis, and the vast
majority of those patients are women. The back brace is most effective for adolescents, but afflicted teens often face
embarrassment and discomfort while wearing the brace to school everyday.
“When we first got the scoliosis project from them we were all super excited to start, but we didn’t really know anything
about scoliosis, and I think we did a lot of research, and the main part of our project was the research,” said Maddie
Edwards, one of the student competitors. “[The project] really taught us how to research, and it taught us how to work
with other people.”
The event, part of a pilot program by the Virginia Innovation Challenge, the Virginia Chamber Foundation and local
chambers of commerce, seeks to expand work-and-learn opportunities that prepare Virginia students with the skills
they need in today’s global economy.
For many of the students, the challenge was their first time working with real world problems and combating the
issues that people face every day throughout the world.
“I learned a lot about the design process, brainstorming, and researching,” said Mia Hagood, another student
To resolve scoliosis treatment obstacles, some teams re-imagined the back brace, revising the structure and style to
improve comfort to encourage adolescents to wear the brace.
Other teams focused on new methods of pain relief and patient spinal measurement, which aids in both scoliosis
detection and brace construction.
Second place was awarded to the “E-Fit” shirt, which would take patient measurements based on the stretch of
nanotech fibers, designed by Nikki Akula, Annie Antonov, Jackson Boran, Michael Brennan, and Manasi Srigiriraju.
The third place team proposed improvements to the existing Boston Brace design, such as comfortable gel inserts
and straps for adjustable tightness. Team members included Justin Wang, Akash Raheja, Kevin Zeng, Bilal Zahory
and Brandon Villines.
The apparent success of the event beckons high hopes for similar projects in the future.
“We’re one company, and we had 150 students trying to solve one problem. If you could take this and have it go
across lots of companies, and lots more students, that would be more beneficial,” MacDonald said. He also hopes to
see how the students progress throughout the remainder of their high school years.
“I think back to what I was doing at 14, and it’s not this, it’s not this at all,” said MacDonald. “I find it to be very
inspiring, because at this age, what they’re capable of doing, I just can imagine, they’re going to be the next
generation of future entrepreneurs, leaders, difference-makers in our community. I think it’s a good thing.”