The Center for Surgery, Innovation & Bioengineering’s initial research thrusts build upon more than two decades of collaborative activities at Massachusetts General Hospital together with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School. Clinically-inspired engineers, physicians, and biologists, among others, are using scientifically and creatively different approaches to improving the diagnostics and therapeutics of patient care worldwide.
Proven track record
The basic and clinical sciences and engineering foundation for this surgical engineering and innovation center has included a National Institutes of Health (NIH) NIGMS Trauma Center P50 Program and NIGMS Glue Grant Program “Inflammation and the Host Response to Injury” to establish basic and clinical research, a NIBIB Biomedical Technology Resource Center award to establish the “BioMEMS Resource Center,” and a Whitaker Foundation Development Award to establish the “Center for Engineering in Medicine” among other awards. Primarily with federal, foundation, and industrial support totaling more than $300 million, the Center faculty has enjoyed an outstanding track record with over 1,300 high-impact joint publications and an H-Index of 87, outstanding trainee outcomes from more than 300 postdoctoral and MD fellows, and productive research translation and commercialization achieved within the academic centers with the nurturing of 21 new companies over the past two decades.
Expanding the overlap – where’s the difference?
MGH has always been well positioned for the convergence model for research (overlapping of the life sciences, basic sciences, and bioengineering). While there are many university-based bioengineering centers and departments as well as stand-alone institutes dedicated to a particular interdisciplinary topic, there are very few activities that are in the heart of the most advanced site of medical practice. The superb environment that MGH provides reduces translational risks. This new Center resides in one of America’s top hospitals (U.S. News & World Report) with the largest U.S. hospital-based research program having an annual research budget of more than $800 million, which is probably one of Boston’s best kept secrets. With its history of clinically-inspired innovation within MGH’s own envivonment, the MGH burns and trauma clinical research programs have yielded major clinical advances, including methods for immediate wound excision and closure in severely injured patients and the development and use of artificial skin. The timeline shows the major milestones of the collaborative research over nearly 40 years.
The Center for Surgery, Innovation & Bioengineering arises from this clinical research environment and is the vehicle to support the expansion of the overlap regions of the current three successful research and innovation centers. Garnering the intelligence, talent, and inspiration of our 148 employees under a single center, the 16 core faculty, 14 full-time scientists, investigators, or associated faculty, 41 research fellows, and the many business development, technical, and administrative staff aim to nurture and support the most promising discoveries into therapies, devices, and diagnostics in the most direct and rapid fashion possible – all under the same roof – until a societal value of the innovation can be realized.
The Center for Surgery, Innovation & Bioengineering not only takes advantage of the traditional academic triad of basic sciences, technology, and clinical medicine, but also adds a fourth dimension – the innovation process itself. Academic medical centers like MGH typically license an invention to a commercial entity that assembles “innovation teams” to further develop the invention early in the innovation process. The expertise and proximity of the scientist or physician inventors and their environment can be lost with this approach, and as a result, the likelihood of success is often reduced. There is certainly opportunity within the MGH environment to “internally incubate” these technologies to a higher degree and to use these new technologies in their applications while still being under one roof. This reduces two very important risks: the risk to completely develop the technology ensuring its fidelity and reproducibility and the human biological or medical risk of does this technology do what it is supposed to do. This internal innovation prior to its translation reduces the overall risk to that of the business related risks (barriers to entry, regulatory, marketing, adoption, …).
The promise and potential of clinically-inspired biomedical engineering and science can be found in this new Center – a place to internally incubate to take advantage of the clinical environment where the problems and opportunities reside. The Center within the MGH Department of Surgery benefits greatly from our proven ability not only to perform cutting edge bench work, but also to integrate patients and physicians as essential participants of highly accomplished research and development teams that speed discoveries into the clinic. Being within the Hospital, often problems present themselves from the clinic and the question “is there a technology that might significantly improve this situation or condition?” This offers the possibility of starting with understanding the problem and then looking through the tool box to determine whether there might be a technology that could improve the condition or situation. This is very different from beginning with a technology and then looking for a problem to solve. In this scenario, technology development, adaptation and refinement follow the understanding of the problem. The technology can then be tested under the same roof and if successful, implementation to a point of societal value is enabled.
The three centers at the moment are fully supported by a combination of federal, foundation, and hospital dollars. There is a need and opportunity for the new Center for Surgery, Innovation & Bioengineering to be more fully enabled by philanthropic strategies to expand the overlapping, translational research activities among the current clinically-inspired centers. Several of the Center’s programs and projects developed from traditional research funding are poised for application in the clinic. Philanthropic support as new funding is essential to help speed these promising discoveries to the patient’s bedside.