Dr. Frank L. Douglas is a man of action.
Since his arrival as president and chief executive of the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron (ABIA) nearly four years ago, the partnership has moved from talking about its plans to implementing them.
Douglas recently shared his thoughts about the institute’s accomplishments and its short-term and long-term plans for the future.
Q: How would you describe the BioInnovation Institute to people in the community who still might not be familiar with the organization?
A: I would describe ABIA as an organization that is focused on two things: solutions that will improve the health of the community and also improve the economy of the community. The way we do that is by bringing collaborations together — the five institutions; the hospitals and two universities together, on the one hand, as well as community organizations that are interested and can indeed collaborate to make those things happen, with respect to community health.
Now, specifically, how do we do that? We chose to focus on leveraging the polymer strength in the University of Akron, and we chose also to focus on orthopedics and wound healing problems as a start, because these are strengths in the area among the five institutions. Also, using biomaterials, using polymers, is a tremendous opportunity to come up with products that will lead indeed to jobs. It will lead to spinning out companies.
On the community side of it … one is the work that Janine Janosky’s center [the Center for Community Health Improvement] does in really bringing the public health, the medical institutions, social institutions together to discuss novel ways of delivering health care, particularly prevention and wellness, to really improve the health of the community.
[Another] is around the training, and the simulation center is all about training at various levels. It’s training the integrated health care, it’s training the young physicians, it’s training the young surgeons, and also providing an opportunity for interaction with industry to really examine its new potential problems to see how well they will work and to be able to make modifications.
Q: Can you share a few of the highlights of what the institute has been able to accomplish over the last few years?
A: I do not think you will find anywhere an organization that after two, 2½ years has achieved the types of things we have achieved.
We’ve spun out Apto, which is an approach for young kids with scoliosis. We have developed, with Summa, PacerMan, which is a simulation. What’s important is that it helps to train the young physicians so that if your heart stops, they would have had practice in how to pass a pacer wire and get the electrical feedback and not be doing it for the first time. That improves the likelihood of a good event.
We have a number of collaborative projects that we have done ... whether it’s in diabetes or nerve damage ... focused on how can this be a benefit to the patient. So at a patient level, there are contributions.
At a community level, we were one of 30 or 32 in the nation that received a Center for Disease Control grant to work on improving health-care delivery on a community-wide basis.
… On the regional and national level, we have brought attention to Akron. The value-driven engineering effort, as an example, is becoming a new way to innovate devices, and that’s now a national contribution. People are looking to Akron as a place where they can come and talk about the best way they can innovate devices.
The FDA collaboration — which is the first one they have done — in biomaterials … enables us to give advice to companies in terms of what are the regulatory things they need to pay attention to as they develop their devices. We are able to be of help, particularly to small companies who don’t have the resources to navigate the regulatory pathway.
Working in this collaboration with the FDA, we are in a position to contribute to the FDA as they seek to understand the properties of new materials and how to detect defects in these new materials, how to understand how these materials interact with the body when they’re in the body for a long time. Through this collaboration, we ultimately contribute to patients. …
A final one is contributing to the education of our next generation of innovators, via our bioinnovation course, in which we bring together graduate students, medical students and business students to work together in teams to try to come up with new solutions, new devices, that will improve the way the surgeons deliver care. …
Q: Over the next two or three years, what are some of the short-term goals?
A: We now have everything in place. So it’s now implementing everything and making them work together better. Our i6 process, in which we source ideas, evaluate ideas for technical and commercial feasibility, make prototypes, study them all the way to clinicals — make that work seamlessly. That’s one goal. [The institute was a winner of the national i6 competition to promote innovation.]
The second goal is really achieving the potential of the simulation center, particularly as a training and revenue generator.
The third goal is really launching a community health improvement process coming out of our CDC grant.
And our fourth goal is becoming a national center for value-driven engineering approaches to making devices.
Q: What about longer term, looking years into the future?
A: Years into the future? For me, that’s simple: Anywhere in the world that you happen to be and you want to make an innovative device, among the top three places that come to mind, Akron should be there.
Second, anywhere in the world that you happen to be and you want to discuss and to see demonstrations of how to bring communities together to improve the health in a cost-effective way, Akron should be among the top three that you think of.
Q: What benefits will the headquarters bring to this region?
A: As we become identified as a place where your ideas will be enabled to become products, it will bring companies into the region. I think as we begin to roll out programs to improve community health…not only will it improve community health, it will decrease cost and it will also bring companies into the region, because companies are concerned about burden of disease.