June 6, 2018

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MEDx Spurs Discovery at the Intersection of Medicine and Engineering


[Originally posted by Duke University SOM— May 14, 2018]

 

According to Google Maps, the walking distance between Duke University School of Medicine and the Pratt School of Engineering is 0.8 miles, or about 1,800 steps. You can cover it in less than 15 minutes.

Thanks to an innovative initiative now entering its third year, in terms of collaboration, joint research, and shared goals, the proximity between the two schools is even closer than that. The result is a fast-growing growing synergy between medicine and engineering that is producing dramatic new advances on a wide range of fronts.

Aristotle’s aphorism “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” describes the impetus behind MEDx—an initiative launched in 2015 by then-School of Medicine Dean Nancy Andrews and then Pratt School of Engineering Dean Tom Katsouleas, with support by Provost Sally Kornbluth, to further increase collaboration between the schools of medicine and engineering.

 

More about MEDx projects:

Listening to Blood  >       Placenta on a Chip >      Building a Better Brain >

 

They understood that the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering could innovate more nimbly, translate discoveries into clinical practice more quickly, and have a much greater positive impact on patient care if they worked together.

“Duke has a number of existing strengths, and MEDx was created to build upon those strengths by creating an ecosystem that would support engineering and medicine activity at all levels across the university,” says Geoffrey S. Ginsburg, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, biomedical engineering, pathology and nursing.

Ginsburg co-leads the initiative along with Ken Gall, PhD, chair of mechanical engineering and materials science and professor of biomedical engineering, and executive director Donna Crenshaw, PhD, MHA.

 

MATCHMAKING OPPORTUNITY

MEDx builds on a long-established culture of collaboration at Duke that has resulted in an impressive track record of biomedical innovation, including new technologies for ultrasound, the cochlear implant, artificial vasculature, and bio-absorbable stents. The program is built on four “pillars” of activity — creating communities, energizing education, inspiring and enabling innovative science, and embracing entrepreneurship—and directs the expertise of both schools in those areas.

“Rather than starting at the department level, this is a school-to-school collaboration,” says Gall.  “We have more than 2,000 faculty in the School of Medicine and more than 110 faculty in the School of Engineering. With the breadth and size of the medical school and the various fields of engineering, there is enormous potential.”

Ginsburg envisions the initiative as a zipper: the twin disciplines of engineering and medicine uniting at multiple points, starting at the undergraduate level and running all the way up through joint faculty hires and distinguished lecturers, and ultimately out into the world of clinical application and commercialization.

“What’s been surprising is just how many new opportunities we’re finding through MEDx, how many people there are who didn’t know they should be working with each other,” says Ginsburg.  “We have developed insights into which connections could be very productive. We’re an effective matchmaking opportunity.”

That opportunity to bridge the disciplines attracts attention.

“I came here enthusiastically for the marriage of engineering and medicine,” says Junjie Yao, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, who joined Duke in 2016. “When interviewing around the country, I couldn’t find any other place like Duke, where collaboration is so seamless. The doctors here love new technology, and you have talented students and engineers who want to make a real difference in the world.”[MS1]

 

CREATING COMMUNITIES

One of the first steps in bringing the two fields together is creating opportunities for busy people to meet, learn, and brainstorm.

“There are natural areas where engineers have interacted with clinicians and physicians and basic scientists for a while,” says George Truskey, MD, PhD, R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Professor of Biomedical Engineering and senior associate dean of Pratt School of Engineering. “But MEDx has opened up opportunities beyond the traditional areas.”

For example, in the School of Medicine, an active group of more than 140 medical students initiated and formed the Medicine Engineering Interest Group [MEIG] to facilitate such interaction.  With additional support from MEDx, they have created a lunchtime seminar series for engineering faculty to share information with medical students about topics such as 3D printing, devices, implants, software, and applications. This is a chance for medical students to learn about engineering research happening at Duke in advance of choosing how they want to spend their third year. In some cases, the exposure to these ideas changes a student’s trajectory.

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