By Michael Detamore
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Imagine people in rural areas having access to mobile medical imaging technology only a few miles from their homes, instead of traveling to one of a few locations. Think about applying a toothpaste-like material to replace a hip joint or repair a broken skull. What impact would these and other innovative medical technologies have on our everyday lives, in our communities, to health care as a whole?
These scientific achievements exist now in Oklahoma, and we can further accelerate these advancements by establishing a biomedical engineering hub. The time, expertise, innovation and funding sources are at the tipping point for our state.
The proximity of prominent health entities, such as the OU Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, Stephenson Cancer Center and the formation of the Innovation District increase the frequency and possibilities for collaboration. The newly formed OU Peggy and Charles Stephenson School of Biomedical Engineering further supports biomedical innovation by bringing together biomedical scientists, engineers and physicians to collaborate and apply their research into medical practice and positive health outcomes. This nexus attracts innovative, creative students who think bigger and bolder while increasing the potential to translate research into better diagnostic and treatment options.
We are already seeing evidence of these collaborations. Recently, the Health Sciences Center and Stephenson Cancer Center hosted the END2CANCER conference. The event brought together a cross-discipline of engineers, physicians, business professionals and other innovators to collaborate on new and emerging ways to end this horrific disease. In March, the Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Science and Technology will host the second annual OU-OUHSC Biomedical Engineering Symposium — another step in Oklahoma establishing its expertise in the bioscience industry.
This configuration also provides Oklahoma with viable opportunities to combine life-saving biomedical treatment with enterprise opportunities. A recent example of this is Cortes Williams, an OU biomedical engineering Ph.D. who is growing artificial tumors — faster than they grow in our bodies — to devise the latest treatments to destroy them. His research has led to two biotech startup companies. The first commercializes the tumor-growing technologies and the second company tests treatment on these tumors.
Another OU biomedical engineering Ph.D. graduate, Jakob Townsend, recently started a company for craniofacial bone regeneration that could help patients with traumatic brain injuries. His company, Leefa, was an outcome of his doctoral work and collaboration with surgeons at the OU Health Sciences Center.
We want to highlight the important role of engineering and health care collaboration during National Engineers Week, Feb. 18–24. The growing health needs and medical advancements make biomedical engineering one of our fastest-growing industries for engineers, especially in Oklahoma.
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The creation of a biomedical engineering hub is another opportunity to expand the collaboration and to recruit and retain bright students and researchers to further their work, license technologies and create Oklahoma-based biotechnology companies. The results are a healthier, more diverse economy and a healthier option for Oklahomans through accelerated and improved health care, imagined and designed in Oklahoma.
Detamore is the founding director, Stephenson Chair No. 1, and professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Oklahoma Gallogly College of Engineering.