Symposium Launches BU, Fraunhofer Alliance

By Jason L London

College of Engineering Dean Kenneth Lutchen discussed Boston University's interdisciplinary research centers and their impact on the BU-Fraunhofer Alliance at the Sept. 7 symposium.
College of Engineering Dean Kenneth Lutchen discussed Boston University's interdisciplinary research centers and their impact on the BU-Fraunhofer Alliance at the Sept. 7 symposium.

When it comes to biomedical patient care, academic research and laboratory design often go hand-in-hand. But many times the delivery of these innovations to the marketplace can be slow, blocked by product development delays and political red tape. An alliance between Boston University and Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, Europe’s largest research and design firm, is seeking to change that.

On Sept. 7th, the two organizations hosted the “Boston University/Fraunhofer Alliance for Medical Devices, Instrumentation and Diagnostics,” a formal announcement of a five-year, $5 million relationship between BU and Fraunhofer that seeks to improve medical care by accelerating the delivery of biomedical advances and innovation to the patient point of care.

Held at the School of Management, distinguished leaders in the field of biomedical design and application discussed their ideas for speeding the delivery of biomedical innovation to the medical marketplace. Speakers at the day-long symposium included executives from global healthcare companies such as Covidien, BioTrove, Excel Medical Ventures and MassMEDIC.

“The current process for the deployment of medical devices to the marketplace is long and chaotic,” Professor Andre Sharon (MFG), executive director of the Fraunhofer Center, said. “Currently, gaps exist between the inventor and the customer, and between research and product development. This alliance aims to bring structure to the process and ultimately improve patient care.”

Sharon believes a key to the acceleration of product development is identifying a working process that is both timely and accurate. He cited the development process as identifying inventors and their ideas, determining the customers, bringing together an engineering team, creating the target application, developing a prototype and commercializing the product.

“Faculty and student work almost always stops at the bench-top level,” Sharon said. “Our goal is leverage the vibrant translational research pipeline at BU with Fraunhofer’s expertise of translating medical innovation into design.”

Throughout the day, a variety of healthcare professionals discussed aspects of moving a medical device from research design to patient care in a timely manner.

Steven R. Gullans, managing director of Excel Medical Ventures, stressed the need for companies to identify a target audience for their project in its initial stages of design.

“If you can name the first five customers who will buy your product,” he said, “your product will have a much better chance of success.”

Tracy Accardi, vice president of research and design at Covidien, discussed the need for collaboration and how each project member must be committed to an accurate, cost-effective bench-top-to-bedside process.

“Ideas are easy,” Accardi said. “The toughest obstacles are developing speed and coordination. We need to be committed to doing more for less and asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to follow through and make these things happen?’ The faster we move to market, the faster we move to revenue.”

The symposium concluded with remarks from College of Engineering Dean Kenneth Lutchen, who familiarized the audience with Boston University’s interdisciplinary research centers. Lutchen concluded that the ultimate goal should be the development of products that create a positive impact in the medical industry.

“The BU-Fraunhofer alliance will amplify the likelihood of getting these projects into society,” Lutchen said. “Our research centers and the Boston University medical community have low barriers to collaboration. This will allow us to translate knowledge to new innovations that will positively impact the world.”

The alliance between Boston University and Fraunhofer Gesellschaft is a continuation of a relationship that began in 1994 with the creation of the Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing and Innovation. Medical instruments currently in development include the myocyte cell isolator, which assists and cardiac regeneration, and an instrument that that can rapidly detect bacterial meningitis in the body.

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