Born of Necessity
Like many inventions, the LOST-Wheel was born out of necessity and, jokes Bivona, out of spite. In his final years as a Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Sciences graduate student, Bivona worked on a grant-funded project in the laboratory of UVM Larner
College of Medicine Professor of Medicine Matthew Poynter, Ph.D. The project, says Poynter, aims to determine the contribution of skeletal muscle contractile muscle cells (myocytes) to local and systemic inflammation and the potential benefits of
exercise to diminish overexuberant or protracted inflammation. The work relies heavily on the study of mouse models after they exercise either on rodent treadmills (yes, they make treadmills for rodents) or on small circular machines commonly called
However, when Bivona investigated purchasing rodent treadmills, he discovered that although they offered all of the functionality he required for his research, they were very costly ($8,500+) and often stressful for the research subjects due to the amount
of handling required. In addition, although the commercially available mouse wheels Bivona researched were less expensive ($395+), most didn’t offer all the functions he required— and many were too large to fit into existing cages. Plus,
their accompanying software packages (an additional $3,000+) still strained his budget. Frustrated with the price and functions of commercial mouse wheels, Bivona set out to not only create his own, but do so in a reproduceable way that could help
other researchers in similar situations.
First, Bivona catalogued all specifications and functions necessary for his current research. He determined that a better device would “Provide data on distance, speed, and time; be accessible in terms of expense, compatible with existing cages,
reliability, and ease of operation; be enjoyable to mice; and limit a mouse’s exercise by distance, time of day, and amount of time spent running.” The last component, Bivona says, was particularly tricky to find in more affordable mouse
wheels. “Mice love to run and even wild mice will use exercise wheels,” he says, adding, “The problem is, that if you don’t limit them, a mouse might run up to 20 kilometers a day. Scale a mouse gait to a human gait and that’s
Learning How To Code
Unfortunately, Bivona was missing a key skillset needed to create his dream wheel—education and training in robotics and software engineering. Undeterred, he bought himself a beginner electronics kit called Lost in Space,
geared toward teaching adults basic coding and circuiting skills over a 30-day period. After completing the kit, Bivona promptly disassembled it and used its parts and those from mouse wheels already in Poynter’s lab to assemble his first prototype
of the LOST-Wheel.
Then, Bivona approached Poynter about his invention.