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MIT, India pact to launch health science institute

December 17, 2007 17:22 IST

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Indian government's Department of Biotechnology recently launched a partnership that will result in the creation of a new Translational Health Science and Technology Institute in India.

This new institute, which will be modeled after the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, will include faculty from multiple disciplines and professions, offer degrees through multidisciplinary programs and develop strong ties with other institutions.

Funded by the Indian government, the Indian HST will be a multidisciplinary, multi-professional research and training center that is highly interconnected with regional centers of excellence.

The institute will increase India's capacity for translating scientific and technological advancements into medical innovations that have the potential to improve healthcare both in India and around the world.

HST Director Martha Gray, who went to India for the launch, signed a letter of intent for this partnership with Dr M K Bhan, secretary, department of biotechnology, ministry of science & technology, at a symposium in New Delhi titled, 'India and MIT: A Conversation about the Future.'

Bhan said tremendous potential exists in India, with its excellence in engineering and science and the partnership is an opportunity to create a long term, synergistic relationship that will result in wide ranging benefits to global health.

'Launching this new partnership with India's Department of Biotechnology will build on HST's pioneering model of medical education that integrates science, medicine and engineering to solve problems of human health,' said Susan Hockfield, president of MIT who led a delegation to New  Delhi, the first such visit by a sitting MIT president. 'We look forward to a future of significant collaboration across disciplines, across institutions and around the world,' Hockfield said.

Among those who accompanied her included Subra Suresh, dean of the School of Engineering; Charles Cooney, the Robert T Haslam Professor of Chemical Engineering; Esther Duflo, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development; Ram Sasisekharan, professor of biological engineering and health sciences and technology; Gray and Tuli Banerjee, director of the MIT-India Program.

To foster a culture of innovation, HST will help recruit and train new THSTI faculty members. Each year starting in September 2008 and continuing until 2011, four recruited THSTI faculty fellows will join the HST faculty. These faculty fellows will train at HST for two years. During their stay they will develop translational research programs, design courses and curricula for THSTI, and develop close relationships with HST faculty and students.

These fellows will benefit from HST's nearly 40 years of experience bringing together science, engineering and medicine in education and translational medical research. HST's success stories include medical innovations like functional magnetic resonance imaging, a low-cost AIDS detection kit and novel implantable drug delivery mechanisms.

HST and MIT will also benefit from having these fellows on campus. 'We will have people immersed in our program who actually know about the unmet medical needs in India and who will expose our students and faculty to those needs,' said Gray.

She said this exposure will help drive innovations that can make a real difference in global public health. 'I don't believe we can have a global impact on health if we don't have international partners as part of our community,' she said added.

First published in India Abroad

The occasion was also utilised by Hockfield to announce the International Innovation Initiative (I3), a new initiative that will strengthen, connect and accelerate its innovation efforts around the globe and provide a focal point for future interactions between MIT researchers and the global venture capital community.

I3 will use as its model the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, established at the MIT School of Engineering in 2002 to identify and incubate novel early-stage research developed at MIT, with the aim of turning great ideas into real-world products and processes.

Founded with an initial donation by technology entrepreneur and visionary Gururaj 'Desh' Deshpande and his wife Jaishree, the center has funded more than 65 projects, 12 of which have spun out of the center into commercial ventures with outside financing.

"The idea behind the DCTI is to combine innovation with relevance so that innovation actually achieves some real value, either societal or commercial, and when you create value, then over a course of time the economy benefits because innovation benefits the economy and also you will create a self-sustaining model where the growth of the economy will foster even more innovation," Deshpande told India Abroad in an earlier interview, explaining the idea behind the model.

Hockfield said the I3 will usher in a new era of partnership and collaboration, and provide new opportunities for innovation. 'The initiative will be a catalyst for new strategies to solve world problems -- such as climate change, energy and the environment -- and to drive economic growth,' she said.

Suresh said the International Innovation Initiative provides a streamlined organisational umbrella to strengthen and enhance the innovation ecosystem by applying the best practices of the Deshpande Center in the School of Engineering to MIT's international activities and collaborations.

Among its many objectives, I3 will work with international partners to identify and select collaborative research projects across multiple disciplines that could lead to new company formation; connect researchers to local and global venture capital networks; and develop courses for students that address technological innovation and go-to-market strategies.

I3 will be organised through the Deshpande Center within the MIT School of Engineering, and will be headed by Professor Charles L Cooney, faculty director of the Deshpande Center.

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York