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India, Stanford to collaborate on biomedical innovators

June 22, 2007 15:38 IST
Stanford University in California has launched a partnership with the Indian government to establish a new training programme.

The Stanford-India Biodesign will help create the next generation of biomedical technology innovators in India.

"India is on the move," said Harry Greenberg, senior associate dean for research at the Stanford University School of Medicine, who described the partnership as a plan to meet the future needs of India's medical technology industry, which is poised to grow dramatically

"India represents a huge part of the population of the globe that is likely to benefit from medical innovation and technology over the next 20 years," he said.

The Indian government will allocate $4.8 million over the next five years to help fund the joint venture between Stanford and India's department of biotechnology to train future medical device inventors and catalyse the expansion of the medical technology industry in India.

"By sharing our teaching methods with our Indian partners, we expect similar biodesign training programs to spring up around India fueling the development of exciting new technologies within the next decade," said Paul Yock, director of Stanford's Programme in Biodesign. "We hope this will parallel the extraordinary growth of the medical technology industry in Silicon Valley over the past 25 years."

Initiated in 2001, the Biodesign Programme at Stanford is dedicated to training tomorrow's leaders in medical technology using an experiential approach to technology innovation. The focus of the Biodesign Programme has been to train the next generation of medical technology innovators, taking advantage of the wealth of experience of Biodesign faculty and affiliated industry advisors.

Under the partnership programme, the plan is to bring the Stanford programme's method of 'teaching innovation' to Indian engineering, business and medical students through a two-year fellowship pilot project.

The fellowship will start with hands-on innovation training at Stanford and progress to immersion in health clinics and hospitals in India where students will identify unmet medical needs specifically targeted for the Indian heath-care environment and create cost-effective solutions to meet those needs.

At the end of the programme, the fellows will remain in India and lead the further development and testing of these solutions in either a university programme, a start-up company or a new unit of an existing company.

The $4.8 million in funding from the Indian government should cover about half the cost of the programme, which means Stanford must raise the additional funding.

While Stanford's Biodesign Programme has successfully trained medical innovators with its unique methods of immersion in clinical settings and hands-on innovation for years now, the new partnership will emphasise the cost-effectiveness of the technology more than it has in the past.

This is a new emphasis that the Stanford leaders hope to promote for their Stanford students as well.

"The purpose is to eventually help meet the medical needs of the people at the bottom of the economic pyramid in India," said Balram Bhargava, the India-based executive director of Stanford-India Biodesign and a professor of cardiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, one of two educational institutions involved in the first stage of the Stanford-India Biodesign initiative. The Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi is the other.

"With a population over 1 billion strong, along with emerging medical and engineering fields and an exploding need for a stronger medical device industry, India is poised for explosive growth of its nascent medical technology industry," said Raj Doshi, a Stanford graduate in both engineering and medicine who has been named the US-based executive director of Stanford-India Biodesign.

"There's a huge opportunity to do a lot of good. The potential in India is limitless. What's needed is a catalyst. We are hoping the combined efforts of the three educational institutions will be this catalyst," Doshi said.

While this initial partnership is based on Stanford bringing its training skills to India, Yock emphasised that Stanford is hoping to cultivate long-term benefits from the programme. The hope is that the five-year pilot project will develop into an ongoing collaboration between Stanford and key institutions in India.

"The global health marketplace for biomedical technology innovation is going to be important in a way that it never was before," Yock said. "Inventors and developers of new medical technologies will need to understand the global applications. The best way for our students to train for this new era is to jump in and experience first-hand the process of innovation in a developing-world setting," he said.

Other expected benefits to Stanford will be the new emphasis on creating cost-effective technology, Yock said.

"Ninety per cent of Indian citizens lack medical insurance and many live in rural areas without access to decent health care. We think cost-effective technology has a really important role in bridging the gap to these underserved patients," he said.

India has already developed several examples of cost-effective medical devices that reach underserved patients such as the Jaipur limb, a lower leg prosthesis that can be manufactured and fitted in a matter of a few hours and is provided free to those who can't afford it. At the Aravind Eye Institutes, a custom-designed and manufactured intra-ocular lens is implanted in tens of thousands of patients a year, free for those who can't afford it.

In the United States, medical technology is often blamed for much of the runaway costs of health care expenditure, Yock said. "We think there is a kind of technology innovation that we don't understand at all in the US that is cost-efficient, cost-effective and still high quality. We want to expose our students to its implications in the context of the developing world," he said.

Stanford's Biodesign has bridged the gap between academia and industry by partnering with the local and national medical technology industry. The programme has established teaching methods that provide innovation tools to engineers, physicians and business people, allowing them to create and develop innovative healthcare solutions.

The programme will be developed in conjunction with Stanford's newly announced International Initiative and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.

The SIB Fellowship Programme that will begin in January 2008 will initially be centered in New Delhi and administered as a collaboration between Stanford, the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. In subsequent years, the fellowship and associated teaching programmes will be developed in other centres in India.

First published in India Abroad

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York