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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 6, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 24
Inventors In Search of Partners

More than 200 would-be designers have already joined the Hopkins Medical Device Network, which will host a networking event in April. Above, board members Kelvin Liang, Tara Johnson, Tiffany Chen and Joe Xue in Clark Hall's machine shop.

New group aims to pair students and faculty for medical device designs

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

In recent years, there has been a groundswell of interest among Johns Hopkins' biomedical engineering students to move straight into industry rather than pursue the traditional route of medical school or graduate-level research. Last year alone, more than 12 medical device companies came to the Homewood campus to recruit JHU students, according to Aditya Polsani, an industrial liaison associate for the Department of Biomedical Engineering. In contrast, only two such companies visited campus the year before.

"The recruiters increasingly want these young people with design skills," Polsani said. "And the students have a lot of passion for this type of work. A lot of what is driving this interest is their desire to develop devices that might change the world and improve health care for all."

To help meet the demand for this field, a group of Homewood students this past fall founded the Hopkins Medical Device Network to encourage the invention of creative and innovative solutions to current medical problems and to provide opportunities for long-term team-based projects.

Specifically, the student-run organization seeks to facilitate collaborations between clinicians and students in the area of medical device development. The HMDN wants to expose participants not just to the design and manufacture of a device but also to the business side of its development.

In November, HMDN held its first event, a social mixer that drew nearly 100 interested students and faculty; to date, nearly 200 students, both undergraduate and graduate, have signed up as members. Group organizers said they anticipate that the number will get even higher next month, when the HMDN will host another mixer with several department chairs and other faculty members expected to be in attendance.

Yinfei Xu, a founding member of HMDN and a sophomore biomedical engineering major, said a primary stimulus for the group's creation was the growing demand among students for networking opportunities with faculty and professional organizations. "And many students wanted to become involved with projects that have long-term potential," Xu said.

Specifically, the HMDN will look to network students with engineers, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Some teams will come together to work on existing projects, Xu said, whereas others will start from scratch.

"Through our group, the School of Medicine faculty will have a network where they can recruit students to work on their projects," Xu said. "We have also been approached by several graduate students who have ideas for a device but don't have the resources or contacts. Our upcoming mixer is aimed at pooling teams with common interests and goals."

The HMDN spring mixer will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 6, in Levering Hall's Great Hall, Homewood campus. The event will serve to facilitate the formation of medical device teams and connect them with faculty members experienced in related fields. In addition to biomedical engineering majors, the organizers hope to attract students from other fields, such as the life sciences and business.

Throughout the rest of the year, HMDN plans to host brainstorming sessions with clinicians at The Johns Hopkins Hospital on medical device development projects, and workshops where participants can gain hands-on experience in product design. The group also plans to bring in industry representatives to speak on various aspects of product development, including how to write a winning proposal that can receive financial backing.

Polsani, HMDN's adviser, said that students who participate will get to learn the various aspects of medical device entrepreneurship, such as market research and intellectual property management.

Polsani, who specializes in technology transfer and commercialization, said that several clinicians at the medical campus have already expressed keen interest in partnering with HMDN members.

"Clinicians will now have the opportunity to see their medical device ideas fructify with the support of a large and highly motivated pool of students," Polsani said. "However, there is still a lot of work for us to do in terms of bringing in a number of faculty from various departments for our common vision, developing new medical device technologies."

Students or faculty who would like to participate can e-mail or go to to learn more.


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