Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Blog

Marissa Kuzirian 05-15-2017

It All Starts with An Idea

by Marissa Kuzirian, Investment Manager

Any project begins with an idea, the kernel of a concept that you hope pops into something bigger, something better.

The same holds true for those involved in the life sciences.  A new treatment or device or biochemical breakthrough begins with a simple idea.  It might be to ease patients’ suffering, or to make a surgeon’s task easier and more effective.  It could be any number of things.

And, in more instances than one might surmise, that idea could come from a personal experience or connection.  Take the case of PECA Labs, run by founder Doug Bernstein, as one example.

PECA Labs, begun in 2012 as a Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh spin-off, focuses on pediatric and cardiovascular surgical devices.  Its proprietary MASA valve greatly lessens the likelihood of reconstructive surgery later in life for newborns with rare congenital heart defects, like the one suffered recently by the infant son of late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.

Bernstein had a great motivator for delving into research and development of these devices in particular – he had been born with the same kind of congenital heart defect.

“My life was saved, shortly after being born in Los Angeles, by a pediatric cardiac surgeon,” explained Bernstein.  “I only survived because a surgeon had been flown in when another baby, born at the same time, had a congenital heart defect.  When the doctors realized that I needed the same attention, they called the airport and had that surgeon come back to the hospital before flying off.  He saved me, which was so unbelievably lucky because there weren’t many surgeons who could perform that procedure then.

“When I had the opportunity to conduct research and start a company dedicated to addressing this issue, I was eager to do it,” Bernstein continued.  “I had the technical experience, passion, and drive, but right out of school, no business experience. If not for the PLSG and the one-to-one help, guidance, and perspective received from the Executive In Residence program there, we could never have advanced to where we are today.”

And it all started with a simple idea – to save and improve the long-term lives of babies born with the same heart defect Bernstein had.