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Yale debuts an incubator for medical inventions

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2014 - Spring


Scientists, clinicians, and engineers come together to brainstorm.

Think of a more formal version of a Silicon Valley garage that’s also a think tank and fundraiser, and you have an idea of what the new Yale Center for Biomedical and Interventional Technology (CBIT) will do. CBIT is a consortium of engineers, clinicians, and other researchers whose goal is to foster the development of medical devices.

CBIT, said Peter G. Schulam, M.D., Ph.D., chair and professor of urology, is to be “the point of entry for an idea.” He initiated a similar program at UCLA and said that Yale’s center will be a clearinghouse for devices ranging from prosthetic limbs to nanoparticles.

“This center will allow us to have a standard place to go rather than have the faculty hunt around and say, ‘I need a guy with a pump. I need a guy with a circuit board,’ ” said John Geibel, D.Sc., M.D., vice chair and professor of surgery (gastrointestinal), and professor of cellular and molecular physiology.

Yale has long recognized that inventions cannot live on ideas alone, and has a veritable alphabet soup of centers to capitalize on them—the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design; the Yale Entrepreneurship Institute; the Office for Cooperative Research (OCR); and the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation. CBIT will partner with all of them, and has also approached the University of Connecticut, the National Institutes of Health, and commercial entities like Eigen, the medical imaging firm in California, and Covidien, the medical technology company located in Connecticut.

The other centers each have areas of expertise, but not the capability to bring a device to fruition, said Thomas Shrader, Ph.D., OCR’s director of strategic corporate alliances. Most importantly, none have the space. Great universities “have lots of good ideas but they’re scattered all over the place,” he said. Dedicated lab space will allow engineers to test a physician’s idea to see whether it’s feasible.

W. Mark Saltzman, Ph.D., chair and Goizueta Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and professor of cellular and molecular physiology and of chemical engineering, said one key aspect is holding workshops with experts from various fields. “That’s hard to do in this field,” said Saltzman, who developed the plan with Schulam. People with skills capable of developing devices “might not be in the same department. They might not be in the same school.”

CBIT will have an executive board composed of experts from the medical, engineering, and management schools that will meet monthly to vet ideas. Once approved, an idea will undergo engineering development. “A lot of ideas get cast aside because you don’t think it’s possible,” Saltzman said. “But a clever engineer might say, ‘This might be possible.’ ” If the engineers can fashion a prototype, clinicians will put it through clinical or preclinical studies. If it passes these tests, School of Management experts will advise on fundraising and perhaps bringing the device to market. But as Shrader cautioned, “If no one can figure out how to make money on it, it’s not going to be made.”

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