New Interdisciplinary Research Center will Focus on Making Diagnostics Smart and Portable
By Sara Cody
The road to commercializing medical technology is usually long, requiring the work of basic scientists, clinical researchers, engineers and eventually industry partners, with one group passing along knowledge to the next until a marketable version of the technology is finally realized. But what if the work of these groups could be combined, with each working toward a common goal simultaneously? Team science has the potential to make the process more efficient and bring medical innovations to the patient faster.
Prof. Catherine Klapperich (BME, ME, MSE) hopes that the new Precision Diagnostics Center (PDC) she directs will do just that. She saw the potential that BU’s diverse research portfolio offers and established the new interdisciplinary initiative that will capitalize on the synergy among faculty researchers to invent new medical diagnostic tools.
The PDC builds on the success, momentum and infrastructure of the NIH Center for Future Technologies in Cancer Care (CFTCC), which Klapperich also directs at BU and will now fall under the umbrella of the new center. The PDC’s mission will expand to include cancer, and innovations that leverage point-of-care technologies to enable precision medicine across a wider swath of diseases. Researchers from the College of Engineering in collaboration with the BU schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine and Public Health will collaborate in the new center.
“This center comprises faculty across many departments of the University, who are working on new ways to collect, measure, and use patient data. We want to take the power of that data and put it into applications that can be patient facing either during an office visit or at home,” said Klapperich. “After working on building the CFTCC for five years, a common refrain was ‘Can we do this for other health care areas?’ We see the PDC as being one way to bring the engineering innovations we have developed in point-of-care diagnostics to the clinic earlier in the design process. Patient and provider input and acceptance is essential to the success of these technologies.”
Point of care diagnostics allow clinicians, pharmacists and even patients themselves to conduct sophisticated molecular tests — like rapid strep throat tests, home pregnancy tests, or blood-glucose monitoring in diabetes patients — in clinics and at home. The PCD aims to apply these innovations across a variety of areas using a three-prong approach: developing new reagents and tests to make advanced patient monitoring possible; designing and creating the algorithms and devices that would house these technologies; and partnering with industry and government to translate innovations into the marketplace.
According the Klapperich, while there are other organizations and institutions that explore point-of-care diagnostics, this center is unlike any other effort in this space due to its unique research approaches. In addition to leveraging expertise from the medical campus, the PDC will also tap into the Photonics Center to explore using light-based technologies for non-invasive diagnostics and monitoring.
“The Center will play to BU’s unique strengths as a research university, including capabilities in infectious disease, expertise addressing healthcare disparities in underserved communities, and our Photonics Center. We’re excited to access those resources and expertise to make a global impact where it is most needed,” she said.
Next steps for the PCD include hosting networking and professional development opportunities for faculty, students, postdocs and residents — such as workshops, seminars and symposia — to attract new members and continue building community. The other founding core faculty members of the PDC include: , Professor Edward Damiano (BME), Professor Muhammad Zaman (BME, MSE), Professor Thomas Bifano (ME, MSE), Professor Mark Grinstaff (BME, Chemistry), Professor Thomas Little (ECE, SE), Professor Ioannis Paschalidis (ECE, BME, SE), Associate Professor James Galagan (BME, Microbiology), Assistant Professor Allison Dennis (BME, MSE) and Professor Avrum Spira (MED, SE).