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Duke University Launches Training Program in Medical Device Innovation

Friday, November 4, 2016
By Brooke Walker, Department of Surgery
Muath Bishawi, MD, MPH, Cardiothoracic Surgery Resident, presents to fellow InnovateMD participants

Photo: Muath Bishawi, MD, MPH, Cardiothoracic Surgery Resident, presents to fellow InnovateMD participants Alexa Bramall, MD, Neurosurgery Resident, and Soni Nag, MD, General Surgery Fellow

A new educational program at Duke University co-founded by a surgical resident offers trainees a unique opportunity to learn about medical device innovation. With the launch of the InnovateMD program, Duke will now become one of a handful of universities to offer training in this field.

David Ranney, MD, General Surgery Research Fellow, and Ken Gall, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science in the Pratt School of Engineering, co-founded InnovateMD in early 2016. The program enables residents and fellows in the School of Medicine to partner with students and faculty in the Pratt School of Engineering to develop novel technologies aimed at improving clinical care.

Dr. Ranney became interested in medical device innovation while pursuing a degree in chemical engineering and noticed that this type of collaborative opportunity for surgical and medical trainees was missing at Duke.

“There are a small number of fellowships out there for residents to essentially dedicate a year or two of their time to a program where they learn about medical device innovation,” says Dr. Ranney, Research Fellow in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery and co-founder of InnovateMD.

“When I came to Duke, I realized that we didn’t have a program like that for residents even though we have all the ingredients right here. We can see the engineering school from across the street, but there were not a lot of conduits for collaboration available, particularly for residents who have both full-time clinical experience and sometimes dedicated academic time. I thought why not try and set something up here at Duke.”

Dr. Ranney initially approached Department of Surgery Chair Allan Kirk, MD, PhD, to discuss the creation of a program for residents. Dr. Kirk connected him with Dr. Gall who also serves as Associate Director of MEDx, a collaboration between the School of Medicine and the Pratt School of Engineering to promote healthcare innovation at Duke. Duke MEDx funded the pilot program earlier this year.

"InnovateMD is an exciting new program that provides residents the opportunity to be trained in engineering innovation in the field of medicine, and provides engineering students opportunity to work closely with doctors to solve real needs in medicine."

-Ken Gall, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Pratt School of Engineering

InnovateMD brings together multidisciplinary teams of faculty and trainees to work on a medical device project. Teams may identify an unmet clinical need or select from a catalog of existing team or lab-based projects. Projects aim to enhance the safety and efficacy of existing treatments and diagnostics with the goal of producing novel devices with real-world application.

“The primary goal of the program is to educate the resident or fellow in medical device innovation and to not only learn that process but to develop actual technologies that will be useful down the road,” says Dr. Ranney.

InnovateMD teams are currently working on projects to overcome hurdles in the operating room, such as improving imaging technologies and interventional therapies to enhance treatment outcomes and reduce risks to patients. Program participants conduct clinical observation in the OR to identify unmet clinical needs and assess the potential for innovative solutions that may benefit patients. Currently, eight residents and fellows are working on projects in breast surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, cardiology, vascular surgery, and neurosurgery.

Dr. Ranney, a PGY-4 resident, suggests that InnovateMD is ideal for residents with 1-2 years of dedicated research or academic time.

“Because we’re earlier on in our training, we’re still exploring career pathways and are somewhat malleable. We’re not only in the operating room doing the procedures and having a full-immersion experience, but we also have a little bit more time to really work on these ideas,” Dr. Ranney explains. “We’re also very highly motivated and we’re trying to build our careers right now, so it’s a good time if you’re interested in that space to participate in InnovateMD and see those interests through. It’s harder to do that when you are mid-career.”

As part of the educational focus of InnovateMD, participants receive mentorship from faculty in the Schools of Medicine and Engineering. The program also offers a monthly seminar series with guest speakers in concept design, intellectual property, business models, regulatory processes, and investment. Throughout the year, Ranney and Gall plan to hold workshops with intellectual property and legal professionals.

In addition to providing educational opportunities, InnovateMD intends to nurture entrepreneurship and facilitate partnerships with industry in the development of devices with commercial potential. Suresh Balu, Director of the Duke Institute for Health Innovation (DIHI), has offered to partner with MEDx and the Department of Surgery to expand the program into a formal educational fellowship and an incubator program for health innovation at Duke.

“It’s been very encouraging to be able to align the different missions of these groups whether that be MEDx, DIHI, or the Department of Surgery,” says Dr. Ranney. “It’s a university-wide collaboration. We want as many individuals from different departments as we can. Our goal is to be as inclusive as possible.”

The next call for applications will roll out in spring 2017 when potential residents and fellows can apply to InnovateMD.

To learn more about InnovateMD, please visit https://surgery.duke.edu/innovatemd.