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A Path for Entrepreneurial Engineers

 

 

The master’s track in translational health technology helps students convert research ideas into commercial success.

 

Graduate students Sriram Boppana and Connor Swingle are working on a project to improve medication adherence for patients with chronic debilitating conditions and help them manage drug interactions. The work is being done as part of their project-based Master of Science degree in biomedical engineering with a concentration in translational health technology. Case Western Reserve University began offering the educational track several years ago to help students become leaders at transforming research breakthroughs to clinical implementation.

“What really sold me on this program was how it lets students lead their own research projects, which can pave the way for entrepreneurial endeavors,” says Boppana, who earned his bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Purdue University last spring. While there, he started a student organization called Purdue M.I.N.D. (Medical Innovation, Networking and Design), which enables students to pursue an independent year-long biomedical research project. When Boppana began considering graduate schools, he looked for programs that would nurture his interest in engineering, medicine and entrepreneurship. Case Western Reserve's master’s degree track in translational health technology was the perfect fit.

The program, which can be completed in one year by studying full time or two years by studying part time, comprises nine courses and a final project. Students take classes in entrepreneurship, clinical ethics, biodesign, bio-regulatory affairs, health care system models and other related topics. The coursework helps students formulate and hone their final project ideas.

“Graduate students in biomedical engineering have a choice as to whether they want to focus on mastering the application of knowledge or begin the first phases of creating new knowledge,” says Colin Drummond, professor and assistant chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “The master’s in translational health technology is designed for those students who are not going to pursue research careers, but are interested in taking technology and seeing it go to market.”

Drummond created the translational health technology master’s degree track with two colleagues: Dominique Durand, the Elmer Lincoln Lindseth Professor in Biomedical Engineering and director of the Neural Engineering Center, and Alia Hdeib, a neurosurgeon with University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

The program has attracted between two and five students a year. “We spent the first few years really understanding what creates value for the students and fine-tuning the program,” says Drummond. “Now we can scale up and serve more students.” He anticipates enrolling 12 to 15 students each year, which will allow the track to remain highly personalized.

The translational health technology track is small, in part, because it includes hands-on work in clinical settings. Case Western Reserve is located in northeast Ohio’s health technology corridor, allowing students to partner with leading clinicians from Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, the MetroHealth System and other local healthcare organizations. Drummond says students have worked alongside clinicians on “pragmatic and patient-facing” final projects that range from development of an early detection system for strabismus to creation of a wireless system to assess an infant’s health and prevent sudden unexpected postnatal collapse.

“The program offers an incredible opportunity for individuals who are really self-motivated and have a deep interest in health care technology,” says Boppana, who plans to attend medical school after receiving his master’s degree. “My hope is that the knowledge and experience gained through clinical training, combined with the experience of the translational health technology program, will enable me to become an inventor within the medical industry.”

Several of Boppana’s predecessors have already reaped the rewards of the program, filing patents, landing funding and creating startup companies to commercialize their inventions. “The program offers a quality alternative for students who want to pursue a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, but are very serious about a startup,” says Drummond. “For certain students with a translational objective or specific career plans, this works for them.”