Maker Story: Patent Search Adds to Health Make-a-Thon Winner Experience

Sarah Nixon, Health Make-A-Thon at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Sarah Nixon’s Health Make-a-Thon project, Miniature Horse Power, has a dual mission: to innovate a miniature equine-facilitated therapy (EFT) program for children who have experienced trauma, or who are at risk for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and to conduct scientific research to advance the cause of miniature EFT.

With campus mentors and scientists, a pilot study that will look at how miniature horses recognize and respond to human emotional states is in the works. That’s where the Health Maker Lab literature and patent review workshop comes into play.

“The other Health Make-A-Thon workshops have been excellent,” said Sarah. The 3D printing workshop was one that proved especially interesting. “I had connected with an engineering student who made 3D-printed electrodes for a painless EEG device for a dog. This opened my eyes to the fact that electrodes for a potential non-invasive EEG headset for minis might be 3D printed in a similar manner.”

With the mindset that it would be helpful to her overall Health Make-a-Thon experience, she attended the workshop given by Dr. William Mischo, head of the Grainger Library Information Center. He walked her through the process of using patent databases, such as Engineering Village, and they searched for a recently invented non-invasive EEG headset for freely-moving large horses. The patent initially proved elusive, but refining search terms and expanding to global databases eventually led them to success.

Sarah is glad she had the opportunity to explore the patent search process, and feels confident in her ability to find patents, should she need to do so in the future. “While EEG data will not be part of our initial research, the general knowledge I gained about patents and standards at the workshop opens a vista to be aware of as we move forward.”

For now, her focus is on building an accessible local miniature equine psychotherapy program in partnership with Champaign-Urbana community organization, DREAAM House, and on designing, with mentors, the protocol for the behavioral study that will look at the minis’ intriguing ability to “just know which person in a given therapeutic environment most needs their attention” – a phenomenon consistently reported in the anecdotal data Sarah has collected via many interviews with miniature therapy horse practitioners, and which she has also observed first-hand.

“My goal is to help raise awareness about the effectiveness of miniature EFT. Practitioners are making remarkable observations in the field, which, so far, have not been studied scientifically.”

She is grateful for the tremendous goodwill and support from the Health Maker Lab organizers and mentors, thanks to whom her Health Make-A-Thon vision is becoming a reality. “I’m excited and thankful that Miniature Horse Power will, I hope, contribute to science, to how we treat ACEs, and help raise awareness about the powerful role that miniature therapy horses can play in helping children heal,” she said.