Center at U turns research into patents

Medical Device Center translates research into clinical products

Brent Renneke

As Arthur Erdman observed high-class research in the medical device field being done at the University of Minnesota, he noticed nothing usable in the field was being produced. âÄúMany of the ideas were put on a shelf and never went anywhere,âÄù Erdman, professor in mechanical engineering, said. In an effort to translate this research into something functional in medical practice, the University built a center solely devoted to furthering research in the medical device industry. The Medical Devices Center is a facility that combines brainstorming, developing and testing intended for turning basic research into medical devices. Erdman, who is the director of the center, said one emphasis of the center is to create a patentable device out of research that originated at the University. The facilitiesâÄô 11 rooms contain the equipment necessary to keep the entire process under one roof. âÄúWe wanted to be able to walk around and get everything we need on one floor,âÄù Erdman said. After the brainstorming process of how to develop the medical device, a prototype is made, which Erdman said is the key to furthering the development of the idea behind the medical device. Aiding the process of translating the brainstorm into a three-dimensional model are SMART Boards, which is a white board that automatically copies everything written on the board into a printable file, according to Lucas Harder, lab supervisor for the Medical Device Center. âÄúIt helps us in getting the prototype into a three-dimensional model as quickly as possible,âÄù Harder said. Erdman said prototyping an idea is crucial because it ensures that everyone involved in its development is on the same page. âÄúUsually the inventor has one idea, but the engineer may be thinking it is something different,âÄù Erdman said. Once a three-dimensional prototype is created, Erdman said the prototype can actually be tested at the center. Although testing usually leads to more fails than success, Erdman said the process takes a couple of days where before the center the same test could take months. âÄúEveryone stays engaged and excited because you are not just waiting,âÄù Erdman said Harder said almost all of the material, including catheters, needles and even other medical devices, has been donated from medical device companies like St. Jude Medical and Boston Scientific. The undergraduates, graduates, and fellows at the center have access to these materials at their convenience, according to Harder, who said students often dismantle medical devices worth around $2,000 to learn about the device. âÄúThey can do that,âÄù Harder said. âÄúIt is a huge advantage to be able to test things and see what is out there.âÄù Erdman said this contributes to the centerâÄôs other emphasis, which is teaching students about the medical devices in a way different from anything they have ever experienced. âÄúRather than working theoretically, they are making stuff and getting experiences,âÄù Erdman said. Also taking advantage of the center are the four members of the Medical Devices Fellows Program, which is a program that places post-doctoral students into the heart of medical device design. Marie Johnson, Ph.D., director of the centerâÄôs fellows program, said the team of four is first put through a âÄúboot camp,âÄù where they listen to prominent people from the industry, which include CEOâÄôs, clinicians, patent attorneys and other researchers. Eric Little, Ph.D., senior innovative fellow at the center, said the knowledge gained is vital to build a common base of knowledge with the team, which comes from vastly different educational backgrounds. Once the group has acquired the knowledge, they are put into the clinical setting by observing surgeries and identifying places of need for medical devices, according to Johnson. Johnson said she expects her fellows to come back with at least 200 observations related to medical devices. Before these ideas are translated to prototypes, the group is required to fully understand the location the device will affect down to the cellular level. Karl Vollmers, Ph.D., senior innovation fellow at the center, said the process teaches that a great idea is a small part of the process. âÄúIn order to be successful, everything has to be designed with the end user in mind,âÄù Vollmers said. Johnson said this train of thought has already produced 20 medical device patents through the program, which is in its second year. The medical device industry in Minneapolis and St. Paul is one of the biggest in the nation, and Erdman said whether it is through developing patents or in educating students, the center is contributing to that industry. âÄúWe are working to solve healthcare problems, and what better place to do it than in the Twin Cities,âÄù Erdman said.