Medical devices center opens on campus

The center is a collaboration between the medical school and the institute of technology

by Devin Henry

Tuesday marked the opening of the University’s Medical Devices Center , a research facility meant for designing and testing new medical devices.

Director Art Erdman said the center is a part of the Institute for Engineering in Medicine , a collaboration between the Medical School and the Institute of Technology.

“What we want to do is take ideas that perhaps come from the Medical School or the Dental School or one of the health sciences departments and schools, join those needs with engineering faculty and students and find solutions,” he said.

The center will be a hub of activity for students, from undergraduate to post-doctoral, professors and industry members to conduct research, Erdman said.

Mechanical engineering graduate student Nathan Knutson said the center will better facilitate research projects for University students.

“The intent is to make it a go-to place,” he said. “It’s mainly to be kept more as a think tank and a tools resource for a variety of people.”

Some of the center’s services include a program that projects live 3-D video of surgery, labs to create mechanical devices and a wet lab to study biological issues.

The center receives the bulk of its funding from the University’s Strategic Positioning campaign, Erdman said. The center receives $1 million a year to operate, and it’s in its second year of five receiving the funds, he said.

Only about $400,000 went to refurbishing the lab space in Shepherd Labs ; the rest goes to fund research, Erdman said.

“A lot of this funding is going to funding graduate students to work on projects, the idea being that this would pull groups together,” he said.

One aspect of the lab is a fellowship program of post-doctoral students and their goal to produce up to 20 patent applications every year, fellows director Marie Johnson said.

Johnson said she intends for the program to identify health aspects on campus that could utilize medical devices.

“We’re going to be in all the schools,” she said. “We’re trying to do device development that helps a lot of people.”

Jay Schrankler , executive director of the Office for Technology Commercialization , said the goal is attainable because of the center’s ties to industry – Erdman said companies such as Boston Scientific and Medtronic donated materials for the lab.

Disclosures of patent ideas to OTC were down to 193 in 2007, a 23 percent drop since 2005 .

New University patent applications were down from 94 in 2005 to 51 in 2007.

Schrankler said the center has set itself up well to add to those numbers.

“They’ve actually set a goal for themselves,” he said. “We don’t see that a lot.”

Because it’s a collaborative effort, students from both medical and engineering programs will work together on projects in the lab.

Ryan Buesseler , a mechanical engineering graduate student, created what he calls a “nasal stapler ,” which can assist in certain types of nasal surgery.

He said cooperation is paramount to getting devices through the creation process.

“We tell (the doctors) either, ‘You’re nuts,’ or more often than not, ‘Sure,’ ” he said of taking requests from doctors.

Since the 1970s, Gerald Timm , a professor of urologic surgery, has opened five companies in the medical-devices industry. He said one of the biggest challenges engineers face is learning the medical terminology.

“It starts with vocabulary, and then you develop a toolkit to help you solve problems,” he said.

Graduate student Blake Larson said learning the lingo was a “baptism by fire.”

“It’s like any graduate program,” he said. “You’ve got to learn your thing.”

Companies eye students with that “toolkit” of skills, Timm said.

“The thing that we look for in industry is students with a skill level,” he said. “The Medical Devices Center will be an opportunity for them to show that skill, develop that skill.”