Bringing medical devices to life: Q&A with Art Erdman

From the first wearable pacemaker to the latest advances in surgical robotics, Minnesota has always been a leader in medical device development. And the University of Minnesota has played a key role in the growth of the industry throughout the region.

As director of the Medical Devices Center, mechanical engineer Art Erdman oversees the designing, prototyping and testing of leading-edge medical devices at the U of M. Here, he shares his thoughts on the past, present and future of this vital field.

How did the U of M become a hub for medical device development?

The history goes back to Medtronic founder Earl Bakken. The U of M brought together engineers like Bakken and physicians to work on really complex issues in healthcare. Another element is how close almost all of the health sciences researchers are to their engineering and science colleagues. As a result, a very unique industry grew up around the Twin Cities.

What role does the university play in the development of new technologies?

It starts with the basic science work that occurs in biomedical engineering and other departments that have to do with cells, molecules, tissue and scaffolds — and also new nanotechnology, sensors and materials. That occurs in a substantial way at the U of M. Also, clinical research that is typically NIH-funded plays a huge role here, resulting in major breakthroughs.

What does Minnesota Innovation Partnerships mean for the state’s medical device companies?

MN-IP could mean a 10-20 percent increase of sponsored research projects from the industry sector, maybe more. I can’t remember a time when I talked to an industry representative who was contemplating work with the university, where — within the first five minutes — the topic of intellectual property didn’t come up. This new approach helps remove the uncertainty that has existed for years related to IP.

What challenges might the industry face in the next decade?

The challenge immediately is regulatory and other government controls like the proposed tax that is supposed to start in 2013. According to local industry, that tax is sometimes larger than their entire R&D budget. The tax could represent 5,000 jobs from some companies. That would be pretty devastating to new products in the pipeline.

What opportunities will the industry see?

We’re in an era of increased, emerging technologies related to stem cells, tissue, engineering, new materials, new therapies and imaging. And we’re certainly in the midst of a huge boom in new patents. So I think the future is bright. It’s really a matter of who has the crystal ball and who will bring the technologies to market with profitable devices that also solve healthcare problems.

Want to learn more about medical device innovation at the University of Minnesota?

Don’t miss the Design of Medical Devices Conference, taking place April 10-12 in Minneapolis. In addition to presentations, exhibits, poster sessions, a job fair and more, this year’s highlights include:

  • ExploraDome: Take a guided tour through the human heart.
  • Virtual prototyping: Learn about interactive supercomputing and its role in creating devices from complex simulations.
  • International student design showcase: Grads and undergrads promote concepts developed in their coursework.
  • Simulation technologies suite: Check out the latest surgical and medical simulators for training and learning.

Innovators wanted!

The Medical Devices Center is accepting applications for the Innovation Fellow Program 2012-2013. Those encouraged to apply: postgraduate engineers; experienced physicians and those in their residency or fellowship training; bio-scientists; seasoned medical device professionals; business professionals; IP attorneys; medical practitioners and others with a special interest in collaborating on medical device innovation and development. The application deadline is April 20. Learn more and apply.

Republished with permission from Business @ the U of M, a publication of the Office of the Vice President for Research.