When Yale professor of surgery John Geibel was interested in building a novel method of organ transplantation, he turned to the students in MENG 404, “Medical Device Design and Innovation,” for help. What emerged was an invention that is now being pitched to the School of Management and will eventually make its way to market.
The new Center for Biomedical and Interventional Technology (CBIT) aims to bring together students and faculty mentors in engineering, public health, medicine and management to develop ideas for biomedical innovations. Eventually, CBIT hopes to support this fusion of medical innovation and entrepreneurship by connecting those teams to private seed money.
After two-and-a-half years of development, the center will have its official kick-off on Sept. 19, with a keynote address by Robert Langer, a medical innovator with over 1,050 patents to his name.
“A lot of students have a general sense of what direction they want to go in, but they don’t know as much as clinicians about professional challenges in the medical community,” said Jean Zheng, engineering director at CBIT. “We’re going to merge experience and enthusiasm to develop something that could help a lot of people.”
Peter Schulam, now chief of urology at Yale-New Haven Hospital, conceived the CBIT at UCLA in 2012 with graduate student Richard Fan. After Schulam came to Yale, he reached out to biomedical engineering professor Mark Saltzman to create a resource for fusing medical innovation with business expertise. CBIT recently received funding from the Provost’s office, as well as the School of Medicine, said Christopher Loose, CBIT’s executive director.
At present, CBIT exists as a network of professors, clinicians and entrepreneurs from Yale and the greater New Haven area, many of whom have approached Zheng with ideas for medical projects, including physical devices, apps and processes. Zheng keeps record of those projects for students interested in working on them and helps connect students with faculty and other professionals on and off campus who can offer guidance.
The center is still seeking out a physical space, where it hopes to eventually hold classes like MENG 404, which mirrors the CBIT’s mission in a classroom setting. The class has helped to generate interest among undergraduates, Zheng said.
According to Schulam, the center is there for anyone with an idea that is not fully fleshed out. Whether ideas are clinically useful or commercially viable are among the questions CBIT can help students answer, he said.
“Then the question is, ‘Does [the Center itself] have the resources and the expertise to help create prototypes of the idea?’” Schulam said. “‘And, if so, are there resources we can get to help start the project?’”
In the future, CBIT will hopefully have internal funds to finance early stage development for projects that look especially promising, Schulam added.
According to Loose, universities are increasingly interested in facilitating collaboration like that which spawned Geibel’s transplant box. Similar centers to the CBIT include the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT) in Boston, a consortium of hospitals and universities, and the Center for Advanced Surgery and Interventional Technology (CASIT) at UCLA.
“Most medical devices are developed by big medical companies who think they know what physicians need but who often make devices that aren’t really adopted into practice because they haven’t worked collaboratively with physicians in the design process,” Saltzman said. “We think it’s better to have input from all sides pretty early on.”
Connecticut has 52 companies devoted to biotechnology, 20 of which are located in New Haven.