Guest Columnist

Column: NC State leads biomed innovation

Guest columnistSeptember 9, 2013 

Laura Baverman

In the days to come, 53 N.C. State University biomedical engineering students – 41 undergrads and a dozen graduate students – will roam the halls of local hospitals looking for procedures and processes they can improve with medical devices.

They’ll sit down with doctors and nurses, physical therapists, administrators and technicians and ask probing questions about unmet needs in health care. And then, with help from mentors from the industry and professor Andrew DiMeo, they’ll set to work over the next eight months designing devices that could actually be brought to market.

In 2006 when DiMeo created the senior design course, it was the second of its kind in the nation behind Stanford University’s Biodesign Fellowship Program for doctoral and post-doctoral students. It was the first to include undergraduates. And still today, it’s one of few courses to encourage the creative design of devices while also requiring students to meet the regulations of the Food & Drug Administration.

It’s also an increasingly big opportunity to generate economic activity, churning out talented young people to work in the region’s medical device companies, creating technology that can be licensed to major device manufacturers and spinning out new companies to take promising innovation to market.

“We’re proving you can do something truly innovative in a year in the medical device space,” said DiMeo, an international speaker on the topic.

A team of his former students has launched Augment Medical, a communication solution for patients with spinal cord injuries. And DiMeo and a partner have started a company and raised venture capital to manufacture and sell one student’s device that induces hypothermia in patients suffering from stroke or cardiac arrest, helping EMS personnel and first responders save lives.

DiMeo’s efforts could be even more relevant in years to come. In 2012, biomedical engineering was ranked by CNN as the Best Job in America. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of biomedical engineers to grow 62 percent between 2010 and 2020.

Though venture capital has been slow to flow to medical device companies in recent years, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center has recently begun providing $50,000 to $250,000 in state loans to qualifying medical device companies, said the center’s director of business development, Joseph Nixon.

The FDA has also pledged to get faster at approving promising new technologies, a move that’s expected to cause a spike in investing.

To keep NCSU a leader at educating students to join the industry, DiMeo has proposed for the university to create a master’s degree in medical technology.

He hopes to eventually attract more industry partners too. And he plans to better connect students interested in starting companies to the university’s entrepreneurship initiatives.

“We had a huge head start on the whole world of biodesign,” DiMeo said. “But we’ve still only scratched the surface.”

Laura Baverman is a journalist who spent eight years covering business for Cincinnati newspapers before moving to Raleigh.

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