Yale Daily News

A new master’s program in Personalized Medicine and Applied Engineering will seek to provide students with the “hard skills” necessary to work in the medical device design industry.

The year-long program is be a partnership between Yale’s program in biomedical engineering and the Yale School of Medicine. It has been spearheaded by faculty members Lisa Lattanza, Steven Tommasini and Daniel Wiznia, and was initially conceived of in the spring of 2020. Tommasini, who is an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine and holds degrees in biomedical engineering, said that the medical school approved the joint program last week and the engineering school did so last month. 

“We found that there was a knowledge deficit in terms of hard skills if [engineering students] were to enter the medical device design industry,” said Wiznia, who is an assistant professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at the medical school as well as of mechanical engineering and material science at the engineering school. “So we designed this master’s program so that someone who graduates the program can immediately start a job in the medical device field or work as an innovative physician in the medical device design space.”

The program will start in the summer with eight weeks of clinical immersion. During this time, engineering and medical students will work with clinical teams at the Yale School of Medicine to “get their feet wet in terms of working with mentors on 3D surgical or medical innovation,” Wiznia said. 

Then, in the academic year, enrolled students will participate in five or six core courses, including a year-long thesis requirement. Subject matter ranges from personalized medicine, which considers radiology technologies and image processing tools, to biomedical 3D printing, which handles topics like tissue engineering and anatomical 3D models. In total, there are about 40 faculty members who will be involved in teaching these courses.

The inaugural class is tentatively slated to include between five and 10 students. This first batch of students will likely be composed of Yale internal candidates, such as those graduating from a Yale College engineering program this spring or current medical students who want to take a year off. 

Tommasini added that after the first year’s “internal pilot,” the team hopes to double the program’s size by its second iteration, and ultimately expand to 45 or 50 students by the fifth year.

Lattanza, chair of orthopedics and rehabilitation at the medical school, began to consider the possibility of a program like this before she came to Yale in 2019. 

Lattanza told the News that she first started using 3D virtual surgical planning about 12 years ago, in collaboration with a company called Materialise. In total, she has conducted between 250 or 300 cases — more than anybody else in the United States. Through her work with Materialise, she noted a lack of clinical knowledge among involved engineers. 

In collaboration with another engineer at Materialise, Lattanza landed on a master’s program as the best route to bridging this knowledge gap. 

“We could hold webinars and seminars and things like that, or do teaching and engineering, educational conferences and surgeon conferences, but… that wouldn’t be in-depth enough for what we were really looking to accomplish,” Lattanza told the News. “Finally, we landed on offering a master’s degree program to people that already have an undergraduate degree in engineering, and that’s how we started all this.”

Lattanza added that medical students could benefit from cross-disciplinary exposure. Specifically, she said people training to be physicians often go through “on-the-job training.” If, instead, their education involved both engineering and physician or surgeon perspectives, Lattanza thinks the medical community “could make advances a lot more quickly.”

Meanwhile, at Yale, Wiznia and Tommasini observed a similar need. In 2019, the pair began teaching a course in medical device design predominantly geared toward biomedical engineering students. In 2020 — the second year of the course — Tommasini said he and Wiznia began further exploring the prospect of teaching cohorts of clinical engineers. 

“We pitched it to the engineering school [in 2020],” Tommasini said. “They’ve been looking to do something like this for a while, and it sort of just snowballed from there.”

Another element of the program that Wiznia noted is its corporate collaborations. In a course titled “Industry-Sponsored 3D Projects,” students will work with a company on a specific project, be it developing custom 3D implants or bolstering computer navigation systems.

So far, Wiznia said the team has spoken with 10 companies. The medical device design class he and Tommasini currently offer also includes interfacing with existing corporate partners, and students enrolled in the master’s program will be able to participate in that class as an elective if they so choose.

“We think these projects are going to be really good because it’ll give [students] a taste for how the industry works, to be able to work with engineers in the field and determine something that they want to do in their career,” Wiznia said.

The team has begun holding information sessions about the program. On Jan. 21, the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design’s newsletter included a note encouraging interested students to reach out to Wiznia and Tommasini.

Wiznia acknowledged support from over 40 faculty members across both schools for their involvement and contributions to the proposal. He specifically named dean of engineering Jeffrey Brock, deputy dean Vincent Wilczynski and the directors of undergraduate and graduate studies for mechanical and biomedical engineering — noting in particular Richard Carson, the director of graduate studies for biomedical engineering.

Similarly, Lattanza noted that interdepartmental collaboration was critical to developing the program.

“Although this was an idea that germinated outside of Yale, it’s really been the partnership with people in my department, as well as the department of engineering and the School of Medicine — that total collaboration — that’s made this come to a reality,” she said. “One of the reasons that I came to Yale was because it was really clear to me that it is such a collaborative, incubating environment, and I see this [program] as having progressed really quickly compared to some of my other experiences at other academic institutions.”

The Yale School of Medicine is located at 333 Cedar St., and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is at 9 Hillhouse Ave.

Correction, March 7: A previous version of this article reflected faculty understanding that the program requires approval from the Yale Corporation. However, administrators confirmed that new programs leading to existing degrees do not need a green light from the Corporation. The article has been adjusted to reflect this.

ANIKA ARORA SETH
Anika Arora Seth is the 146th Editor in Chief and President of the Yale Daily News. Anika previously covered STEM at Yale as well as admissions, alumni and financial aid. She also laid out the weekly print edition of the News as a Production & Design editor and was one of the inaugural Diversity, Equity & Inclusion co-chairs. Anika is pursuing a double major in biomedical engineering and women's, gender and sexuality studies.