High Tech Talk: The Newest Wave in Medical Innovation
“To succeed you must fail, often.” We have all heard this phrase many times when given advice on how to succeed. At the High-Tech Med Talk, which is part of the ‘Mini-Med School Series’, BWH biomedical engineers Elazer Edelman and Jeff Karp along with MGH’s Conor Evans all showed that this adage is true, especially in the age of high-tech innovation.
The moderator of the evening, Elazer Edelman, MD, PhD, director of the Harvard-MIT Biomedical Engineering Center and a cardiologist at BWH, began by explaining that innovation in the world of medicine is not a straight and fast road, despite how good the final product may look. The barriers researchers and physicians encounter everyday are huge. For instance, the amount of funding the government allocates to innovation every year is negligible. Through extensive research and novel-thinking, Edelman’s team has developed a stent-based drug delivery system which has helped decrease cardiovascular disease sixfold over the past 40 years. Dr. Edelman believes that we are living in one of the most innovative periods in history and wants to further educate the public about innovations occurring all over the world.
Conor Evans, PhD, a chemist at MGH’s Wellman Center of Photomedicine and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, has been trying to solve problems using photomedicine (light interacting with tissues) since he joined Wellman in 2010. Photomedicine involves the study and application of light to develop innovative medical products or new approaches to providing patient care. Two of the projects that Evans presented were SMART Bandages and Virtual Biopsies. One approach to taking a Virtual Biopsy involves using a technique called Optical Coherence Tomography which advances clinicians’ ability to assess and mange disease. This biopsy is non-invasive and creates a 3-D image using a scanned light beam. The concept of creating a 3-D image has been explored further by Gary Tearney at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine through a pill containing OCT technology that a patient can swallow to scan the entire esophagus for the diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus (detecting pre-cancer cells). Lastly, Evans explained that his new SMART bandages can map oxygen concentrations in skin burns and other wounds. This liquid bandage glows green when the tissue is oxygenated and red when there is less oxygen. He hopes that one day, in the near future, this technology will be compatible with smart phones.
“As we encounter challenges, we approach them the same way and expect a different outcome. We have been educated out of being creative and we must break free from the repetitive process and relaxed state our brains gravitate towards,” explained Jeff Karp, a bioengineer at BWH and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Karp is trying to establish a paradigm shift for accelerated medical innovation to improve the quality of patients’ lives. In one of his projects, he is trying to find solutions for clinicians who treat young children with heart conditions. Using viscous and hydrophobic glue—inspired by the secretion of slugs and snails—that repels water, his team developed a patch. During a pilot study with the patch, it was too small and slipped off; however, his team scraped up some remaining glue to seal the wound and it functioned perfectly, ‘failing’ and yet ultimately leading to success. In another project he has designed a cream to prevent allergic responses from nickel, that affects 9 percent of the population.
Karp and his team have developed a company called Gecko Biomedical, which is pursuing this technology to simplify surgical procedures, specifically minimally invasive surgery. “This has the potential to replace sutures and staples in many procedures,” announced Karp.
Both Evans and Karp talked about how they have written many unsuccessful grants, which has only motivated them further. Through unwavering persistence, and assembling multi-disciplinary teams that have full access to state of the art resources and tools, they have been able to turn those failures into successes, creating the perfect recipe for accomplishment.
This new and exciting wave of medical innovation has potential to significantly change and advance daily medical practices. The only question is: how soon will innovation be adopted by clinicians globally?
Stay tuned for another ‘mini med school’ talk on March 31 with Jessica Savage, MD, the director of Population Studies in Allergy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who will be discussing the rising prevalence of food allergies and how our microbiome may play a large role.
For more information and to register for future ‘mini med school’ talks, please visit: http://hms.harvard.edu/news/longwood-seminars