Johns Hopkins Gazette: December 4, 1995

Biomedicine Emerging in APL's Restructuring Plans

Ben Walker
Applied Physics Laboratory

     APL's biomedical program just got a shot in the arm.

     Director Gary Smith has announced establishment of the APL
Institute for Advanced Science and Technology in Medicine. The
action builds on the success of APL's 30-year collaboration with
the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, and recognizes the
growing potential for new business in biomedicine work at APL,
estimated to reach $20 million a year in three to five years.
Smith said APL will invest approximately $1 million per year for
the next three years to develop a potentially self-supporting
biomedical and healthcare program. Until recently, APL's
biomedical projects have primarily emphasized basic research.

     "In the new business era we want a more balanced approach,
with equal importance placed on engineering-type programs that
apply technology to improve medical care," says assistant
director for research and exploratory development Vince Pisacane,
who heads the new medical institute as well as APL's Independent
Research and Development Program and its Biomedical Sciences
Thrust Area. "The institute will accelerate our biomedical
program and serve as a central coordinating point for marketing
and business functions."

     The new institute will promote collaboration through
appointments of personnel from both the laboratory and other
university divisions. Pisacane says the appointment process is
moving ahead quickly and that in addition to its permanent staff,
the institute will draw on the skills of other individuals when

     There are many markets for medical technology. Military
services need better, cheaper, faster ways to deliver medical
care to their operating forces. In the public health sector,
hospital departments must be streamlined to handle larger patient
volumes with less personnel and fewer resources. And with
patients being released from hospitals sooner than before, new
technology is needed for better home care, including monitoring,
imaging and diagnostic systems. Biomedicine offers excellent
prospects for the laboratory, says APL's new business
coordinator, Sam Seymour. 

     "We're continuing our current projects, many of them headed
by a part-time principal investigator with a couple of people.
We're also going after larger biomedical programs--ones that may
require full-time interdepartmental teams that bring in larger
revenues," he says.

     APL is a key player in a consortium of industrial, minority
and healthcare partners that has submitted two proposals to the
U.S. Army's Medical Research and Materiel Command. Seymour says
that for the laboratory approximately $5 million over a five-year
period would be available for work in telecommunications and
information distribution, plus another $2.6 million in medical
modeling and simulation. At the same time, APL is negotiating
with the U.S. Air Force Medical Systems Command at Brooks AFB in
San Antonio, Texas, to modernize medical equipment aboard
aircraft used to transport patients. Such work would include
fitting more equipment into the same space and improving its

      "When they turn on a heart stimulator they want to know
that it'll work," Pisacane says, "and that the plane won't turn
left instead."

     The laboratory's biomedical program, which began formally in
1965, was previewed in June of this year at a retreat in
Baltimore. More than 40 representatives from APL, relevant
Hopkins divisions, the Hopkins board of trustees and industry met
to discuss the future of the laboratory's program. Members of the
retreat recommended that APL establish a permanent biomedical and
healthcare organization to pursue business opportunities, which
they estimated at more than $20 million per year. The Institute
for Advanced Science and Technology in Medicine meets this

     As envisioned by the retreat's report, the institute will
become a significant business area that will "address important
national and military problems, exploit dual-use technologies,
and provide challenging and rewarding work for the staff."

Sources of funding
     The laboratory expects to obtain most of its outside funding
for biomedical programs from the National Institutes of Health.
The Department of Defense, along with other federal and private
agencies, would provide the rest. The Johns Hopkins Program for
International Education in Reproduction Health may be a strategic
ally. The laboratory is collaborating with JHPIEGO on a proposal
to the government of Indonesia for an APL-developed telemedicine
system to extend the reach of health care to citizens of that
country. If successful in Indonesia, the system may be installed
in other countries. 

     The Health Care Product Alliance, formed in 1994 under
Maryland's Department of Economic and Employment Development, is
yet another potential source of money. 

     The alliance, whose members include APL, the Hopkins schools
of Medicine and Nursing, and several other state defense
companies and medical institutions, provides funds to develop
innovative health-care products for the civilian marketplace.
Brent Bargeron of the research center is APL's product
coordinator for the alliance. He says two projects show promise
for alliance support: a noninvasive system to determine cardiac
output and a fetal heart monitor that can obtain an EKG from the
fetus without penetrating the sac.

     "These noninvasive techniques allow doctors to diagnosis
certain types of illness without resorting to surgery," says
Pisacane. He points out that the current method of obtaining a
fetal EKG requires placing an electrode on the baby's scalp,
which risks infection and causes the baby to be born within 24

     Products that have commercial potential--such as a bone
replacement implant now under development in the Technical
Services Department--are attracting funds from the Triad
Investors Corp. of Blacksburg, Va. Triad's University Partners
Portfolio provides capital for "outstanding technologies
developed at either Virginia Tech or the Johns Hopkins

     Funding for proposed biomedical projects is also available
through the laboratory's Independent Research and Development
Program, which provides seed money to develop APL-initiated
products and services of potential use to the government. 

     A key thrust area within IRAD, Biomedical Sciences is
organized into three projects: Medical Informatics and Health
Care, headed by Steve Yanek of the Fleet Systems Department;
Biomedical Instrumentation, under Harvey Ko of the Submarine
Technology Department; and Biomedical Research, headed by Dick
Farrell of the Director's Office.

     And the research center has its own IRAD funds to back
projects proposed by members of the center.

Current projects
     For 30 years, APL's collaborative biomedical program has
developed more than 100 specialized medical devices, including
rechargeable pacemakers, implantable medication-dispensing
systems, a nonreusable syringe and an ingestible "pill" that
transmits core body temperature and other vital data to help
safeguard the lives of such people as firefighters, ocean divers
and elderly hospital patients. APL's current biomedical projects
build on this legacy, reaching into virtually every medical
domain. Present work includes studies of neurophysiological and
psychophysical pain, cataracts, corneal damage from infrared
radiation and ocular health hazards from millimeter wave

     APL's biomedical researchers are developing a microscopy
technique for genetic mapping for early detection of a
predisposition to develop cancer, techniques to correlate the
motions of prostate cells and the distribution of DNA with
prostate cancer prognosis, a minimally invasive laser method for
clearing obstructions in shunts placed in the brains of
hydrocephalic patients, an algorithm and software for automated
detection of early breast cancer in mammograms, and a
telemedicine system providing real-time, multimedia medical
consultation over long distances.

      First-time trials of the system, just completed during a
six-month deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln Battle Group,
were successful. The institute is also hoping to make a
contribution in the national effort to map the human genome,
which would open the door to understanding and curing such
diseases as cancer and AIDS. Using IRAD funds, laboratory
researchers are developing new technologies to speed the time
needed to sequence the human genome. With success in this
preliminary effort, APL would team with Johns Hopkins Medical
Institutions in a proposal to NIH, which oversees the genome
mapping program. In many ways, APL's rejuvenated biomedical
program is an example of the laboratory's multipronged thrust to
capture new business. According to Pisacane, the prognosis is

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