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Director's Message Fall 2017

Dr. Firestein

It began as an experiment four years ago. UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (ACTRI) and UC San Diego Institute of Engineering in Medicine (IEM) launched an initiative to bring physicians and engineers together to develop and implement novel engineering solutions for specific unmet medical needs.

Since establishing the Galvanizing Engineering in Medicine (GEM) program, we have awarded 15 physician-engineer teams with diverse and innovative projects. Successful examples include a home system to predict cystic fibrosis flares; injectable biomaterial for treating pelvic floor disorders; 3-D printable, disposable endoscopes; and epidermal electronics technology for minimally invasive monitoring of brain function in newborns.

GEM is a two-stage competition. In the first, clinicians propose a challenging problem in medical care that can be addressed by an engineering solution. The best ideas are selected and then presented to engineers, who compete to propose the best engineering solutions. A panel of experts chooses the top projects and the newly-formed team of clinicians, engineers and students are funded. Since GEM’s inception, every year we have awarded two to four teams $60k each to support an 18-month project. The program was initially supported by the UC San Diego Health System, and is now funded by campus through the generosity of Chancellor Pradeep Khosla.

We recently announced the 2017-2018 GEM awardees, which includes four physician-engineer teams focusing on challenges in the areas of cardiology, ophthalmology, radiology, and reproductive medicine:

  • James Friend, PhD, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Alexander Norbash, MD, professor and department chair of radiology, are developing a new, minimally invasive intervention to treat cerebral aneurysms.
  • Drew Hall, PhD, assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering; Louise Laurent, MD, PhD, associate professor of reproductive medicine; and Yu-Hwa Lo, PhD, professor of electrical and computer engineering, are developing special nanosensors to detect placental dysfunction early in pregnancy.
  • Frank Talke, PhD, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Robert Weinreb, MD, professor and department chair of ophthalmology, are developing a miniaturized sensor to measure intraocular pressure in patients with glaucoma and keratoprostheses.
  • Anna Narezkina, MD, cardiologist and assistant clinical professor of medicine, and Elliott R. McVeigh, PhD, professor of bioengineering, are developing a non-invasive computer tomography imaging method for early detection of myocardial dysfunction cancer chemotherapy.

GEM is one of ACTRI’s most successful collaborative programs. The first seven GEM projects resulted in 10 publications in professional journals, five patents filed and three new grants awarded. GEM projects also have led to one start-up company and two industry partnerships. Last April, GEM was the focus of our presentations to UC President Janet Napolitano during her visit to UC San Diego, where she was briefed on activities to commercialize academic research. ACTRI and IEM are truly thankful for the Chancellor’s generous support for this year’s GEM teams. We are appreciative of Deborah Spector, PhD, and Shu Chien, MD, PhD, for their leadership of the GEM initiative.

The GEM program is one of the ways ACTRI fosters a culture of disruptive innovation across UC San Diego and beyond. I invite you explore the GEM program and other opportunities at ACTRI.

Gary S. Firestein, MD, Director of ACTRI
Distinguished Professor of Medicine
Dean and Associate Vice Chancellor of Translational Medicine
Phone: (858) 822-3824