October 22, 2019

By Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science staff


Allisa Song, a second-year medical student at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, and her teammates will head to Virginia this month as graduate finalists in the 2019 Collegiate Inventors Competition.

This competition brings together the nation's most creative students to showcase and compete with their research and discoveries, and offers networking opportunities, market exposure, mentorship, and more.

Song and her team — which includes Elias Baker, Jennifer Steger, and Mackenzie Andrews — are bringing their invention, the Nanodropper, a universal eyedrop bottle adapter that eliminates eyedrop medication waste.

The impact: Creating a solution for eyedrop medication waste

Before Song came to Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, she could already say she was a CEO and co-founder of a startup, Nanodropper, LLC.

In 2017, after reading an article that reported how drug companies manufacture eyedrop bottles that produce eyedrops far too large for the eye to absorb, Song knew she could create a solution. She assembled a team composed of people she met while completing her undergraduate degree in biology and psychology at the University of Washington. With backgrounds in bioengineering, pharmacology, and mechanical engineering, they were well-equipped to get to work and the Nanodropper was born.

The Nanodropper is a small, screw-on attachment that fits onto any standard eyedrop bottle and better controls the size of the eyedrop. It is easy to use, cost effective, and allows the patient to dispense a far-smaller drop, which improves the medication’s effectiveness and reduces side effects.

The device also enables the patient to get more doses per bottle. This might not be a large concern for those thinking of traditional, over-the-counter eyedrops, but in the case of expensive prescription eye medication, such as eyedrops used to treat glaucoma, this device can eliminate medication waste and result in significant savings for the patient.

Patients also often miss their eye when instilling eyedrops and chronically run out of their medications before insurance will cover the next refill. One study found that up to 25% of patients experience this “bottle exhaustion,” which creates a barrier to medication adherence.

Song and her team created the adapter with the goal of providing a solution available directly to patients.

“Our main goal has always been to help empower patients to take back control of their eye health in our complicated health care system.”

Balancing medical school and a startup

Since 2017, the Nanodropper has been widely recognized. The team filed for a patent earlier this year and has a website that is accepting preorders. Song says the Nanodropper is “promising because there is very little out there like this. It’s unique.”

As a second-year medical student, Song is challenged by having to balance her school work and her role in the startup. However, she said, “Hearing patient stories through my work with Nanodropper reminds me every day of why I went into medicine. It’s been so rewarding and it keeps me motivated in the classroom.”

Song added that she is grateful for the help of Baker, Steger, and Andrews. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without my team,” she said.

As for what's next after medical school, Song has yet to commit to a medical specialty. She says she might consider ophthalmology, but she is “keeping her options open.”