Innovation Team fuses Medicine with business and engineering

Sunday, October 1, 2017 - 3:55pm

Fast Forward Medical Innovation, a team based in the University of Michigan Medical School, in partnership with the Ross School of Business, the School of Engineering and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, held a symposium on medical device innovation Friday.

The goal of the event was to guide students from developing an idea for a medical device to receiving funding for their project and ultimately commercializing that device. The event included several panelists, from faculty members to venture capitalists and larger corporations, who discussed topics such as gaining FDA approval and funding a project.

Members of the FFMI team also used this opportunity to showcase posters that students submitted as proposals for new devices. Several of the projects have already received funding from FFMI, which has sponsored more than $450 million in awards for biomedical research each year.

According to FFMI’s managing director, Connie Chang, though FFMI is based in the Medical School, its goal in encouraging research in the medical field extends to uniting academics and overall entrepreneurship.

"We like to think of innovation as something that for a long time was something that was to the side of what regular academia would think about," Chang said. "But our mission is really to try to make innovation and entrepreneurship more of a natural academic behavior, even an expected behavior."

FFMI executive director Kevin Ward, a professor of emergency medicine, echoed Chang's statements and explained that while navigating the world of entrepreneurship may seem risky, FFMI is available to provide resources and advice to students about how to commercialize their ideas.

"Innovation and entrepreneurship are very risky, opposed to the traditional academic mission of getting your grants and writing your papers,” Ward said. “But at any point in their idea, their innovation roadmap, it can be something as early as a sketch on the back of a napkin or something really advanced, our program will have something to offer them to bring value and get them moving faster."

Event host Daniel Orringer, an assistant professor of neurological surgery, explained how the process for creating a successful medical device starts with identifying an unmet need. Following panelists discussed how to take that idea from realizing a need for a device to producing that innovation and commercializing it.

Panelists highlighted the theme that medical device innovation involves more people than just those in the medical field. Creation of a device itself involves engineers and medical professionals.  

"A medical device if you think about it is one part engineering, it's one part clinical," Chang said. "You have to actually have a technology that's going to actually create value or solve a problem that people care about, and those people are patients, and providers, and doctors, and nurses and so on."

One such partnership representing a union between engineering and medicine is the teamwork of doctoral candidate Yang Liu and postdoctoral researcher Jeff Plott.

Liu and Plott created a device which quickly reaches brain clots and removes them without causing further complications. They submitted their medical device for the poster showcase and received first place.

Plott said the duo worked closely with doctors from Michigan Medicine to create this device. He elaborated that he enjoys using his engineering background to make innovations in the medical field.

“I like being able to put what we learned in engineering school to use to design products that directly help people,” Plott said.

His interest in combining engineering with medicine captures Chang’s point: medical device innovation involves more than just medical professionals.

Members of FFMI wanted to emphasize that beyond engineering and medicine, medical device innovation can capture many other interests. Organizers of the event hoped to unite multiple disciplines beyond the partnered schools to the University. 

FFMI emphasized how the event was intended for all members of the University community and how their work involves everyone from undergraduates who have bright ideas to senior faculty members who have started companies.

“The problems are so complex that no one person can solve them, so some of the most exciting technologies are these collaborations across schools and disciplines,” Ward said. “The language of innovation of entrepreneurship is sort of uniting.”