Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Great Ideas Can be a Reality

The University of Michigan is proud of their Medical Innovation Center (MIC) and how it helps the medical profession foster creative solutions. To find a way to promote innovation began when Jim Geiger, M.D., a UM Associate Professor of Surgery had trouble using an unwieldy surgical clamp. He often operated on infants with pyloric stenosis—an obstruction in the pyloric muscle that connects the stomach to the small intestine, but there was a problem as he generally had to use surgical instruments that were made for adults.

The more Geiger tried to fit an adult-sized surgical clamp through a tiny incision in a new born baby, the more he thought that there must be a better way to do the procedure. He sketched out some designs for new pyloric clamps to use on his patients. He shopped them around but his ideas went nowhere since it takes time and money to develop new medical devices and the market for instruments used in pediatric surgery is generally too small for companies to justify the investment in new technology.

After a time, Geiger teamed up with Albert Shih, PhD a Professor of Mechanical Engineering who was making a career transition to biomedical engineering. Both men decided that one way to approach finding a solution for the problem was to use the talents of a team of senior engineering students enrolled in the medical school.

Both men worked with the students to perfect the design for the clamp and Geiger came up with the money to cover the cost of making a prototype. The next step was to approach executives at a medical device company and interest them in licensing the device. This was successfully accomplished by The U-M Office of Technology Transfer in 2008.

Geiger and Shih then decided to take another step and make it easier for others to develop new devices and technology and at that time, created the Medical Innovation Center at the university with Geiger as Director and Shih as Associate Director The center was established in 2008 with nearly $2 million in start-up funding contributed by the Medical School and the Department of Surgery, the College of Engineering, School of Dentistry, Office of the Vice President for Research and the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research (MICHR).

According to the University of Michigan’s Department of Surgery newsletter “News and Notes”, MICs goal is to foster innovation and enable new medical technologies by bringing clinicians, scientists, dentists, engineers, and business professionals together through education and research to work on health issues on a global scale. By using a multidisciplinary approach, ideas can be transformed from an idea into a clinical reality so MIC was created to transform promising medical technologies into viable products in the commercial marketplace.

The Center provides a mentoring system to educate leaders in cross-disciplinary research and they now have their own prototype lab to create prototypes of some of the most promising devices. Grant funding from the MICHR has provided advanced rapid prototyping equipment.

In 2008-09, MIC awarded five fellowships to form a team to work with Geiger to look at how surgeries are performed to see if there can be improvements in the way that surgery is being done. The team of fellows came up with a way to develop a better device to secure IV catheters and so the team was able to start a company to develop the device with a $ 5,000 Business Accelerator Award from Ann Arbor SPARK.

Geiger eventually would like to increase the groups of fellow so that there can be more continuity in the program and expand the MICs global reach by using technology to link with similar programs in other countries. He would also like to hear from Department of Surgery alumni as to what types of devices or processes could be improved to make their work easier and safer.

For more information on MIC, go to www.med.umich.edu/ummic/index.shtml or email UM-MIC@med.umich.edu.