In this episode I sit down with Dr. Art Erdman to talk about his background in engineering, how 3D printing helps research, and how to navigation the development and innovation process.
- The University of Minnesota Medical Devices Center, what it does, and how it spurs medical device innovation.
- How Dr. Erdman ended up in the medical device industry from a background in engineering.
- How the technology of 3D printing at the Medical Devices Center helped to remove a brain tumor.
- Advice for people struggling through the development and innovation process.
- The importance of collaboration in the medical device industry.
“I think we all struggle with so much information and technology moving so fast—what’s going to be important and what’s not?”— Dr. Art Erdman
Dr. Art Erdman is the Richard C. Jordan Professor and a Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota, specializing in mechanical design, bio-engineering and product design.
– [Narrator] Are you ready to master the waves of medical device product development? Well wax up your surfboard, because you are listening to Inspired by Imua, and here is your medical device product development expert, that Hawaiian heart and hostess who will help you hang ten, Meghan Alonso.
– [Meghan] E komo mai and aloha! Welcome to Inspired by Imua, where each week we bring you education, insight, and guidance to help you and your product hang ten through medical product development. I have a special guest with me today, and I am actually onsite in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the University of Minnesota Medical Devices Center. I just had a wonderful tour and Dr. Art Erdman is going to bring his insight into what the center does and how it spurs on medical device innovation. So Art, are you ready to hang ten?
– [Art] I am, yeah. We don’t do it much in Minnesota but I’ll give it an old college try.
– [Meghan] I actually heard last night that there is a crazy group of surfers that surf some of the lakes around here during the November gales, so I can’t even imagine how cold that is.
– [Art] Well, they actually do that on Lake Superior, which is on the northern border. Yes, I’ve seen that and there’s icicles hanging from the trees on the shoreline and they’re out there, crazy.
– [Meghan] Wow. So Art, tell us how you stumbled into medical device development, I know you have an engineering background.
– [Art] Yes, so my masters and PhD is in mechanical engineering and it was really focused on mechanical design using kinematics and mechanisms and things like that and even as a PhD student, I for a little bit looked at a project that would be involved with understanding spine movement, three dimensional, vertebral movement, but there was no funding. I was back at RPI. But when I got to the University of Minnesota, I very quickly began to understand that already, this is back in the 70s, there was a lot of activity between the health science area and engineering school, because we’re right across the street from one another. So within the first year I was already working with dentistry and then a little bit in cardiology and then orthopedics and so forth, so I’ve always had the interest and however, no training. So I’d like to encourage any engineers out there that haven’t had anatomy, physiology, or any of the ologies, you can learn it on the job. Which is what I’ve done over the years, it’s great fun coming in because I learn something all the time and try to apply some standard design methodologies towards projects, there’s a lot that is in common that you can apply although working with medical devices as I think most of your listeners may understand is very different than designing a part for a car.
– [Meghan] Yeah. That each one of them is unique and difficult but in different ways and I think you’re right, with any of the ologies that you can take. I have seen that, there is courses for that, one of the local organizations in Southern California, Biocom, they actually have a course for engineers that teaches them just basics of life sciences and gets them up to speed on that. You know, if they want to know what cell lysing is and how to engineer for that, they can pick those skills up.
– [Art] Yeah. You know, and so I have to go to medical school to learn those things, so what I found early on is if I had one colleague and one of the medical school departments that was as interested as I was, they were interested in understanding the basics of the engineering and I was trying to understand the need, I felt like I was in heaven. These days we have tens or twenties of those people that surround the center, so we’re really fortunate that there’s been a lot of change over those years.
– [Meghan] So I just finished a tour here, and it was pretty amazing if you’ve never been. And the campus is beautiful, it’s a nice summer day, warm, I don’t know how cold it would be in the winter time, but I’m glad I’m here now. That it was pretty cool because the medical devices center is right in the same building, practically, as that the all of the medical offices and the school and then the engineering school is literally right across the street. So Art, fill us in a little more on the history of this and I know we’re in what used to be a parking garage, so that’s pretty amazing in of itself.
– [Art] Yes, and even last week I ran into a surgeon that claimed like many others, “Oh, I used to park right here.” Not sure if it’s true or not but yeah, they decommissioned the garage, which is fortunate to us. It’s a beautiful facility, it’s about 8,000 square feet. Which we’re told by others is unique in the world. It’s a place where we can quickly prototype lots of things and do testing, it’s been uniquely designed so that design teams can make good, quick progress. The worst thing you can do is you have an idea and, “Well, let’s come back in two weeks” “when we order motors and tubing and all that stuff,” but no, no. So we try to have all those things handy here. And you’re right, this is right in the midst of all the action, we’re within minutes of all the operating rooms and the other suites and close enough to the other engineering facilities where we have equipment that we don’t need to have here onsite.
– [Meghan] And, so tell our listeners about our last stop on our tour that was pretty amazing and I think everybody wants to hear the brain tumor story.
– [Art] Okay. So the center actually has the same mission as most universities, we do training and we do outreach, a lot of outreach, K12, all the way up. But we also do research, and one of the research projects we have is I think pretty cutting edge. That is to use tools of virtual reality and 3D imaging to prior to doing animal and human trials to virtual simulation and optimization of devices in virtual anatomy. So you may have to back up and listen to that again, but essentially we can, this is a custom built system that we can project in 3D any anatomy, so it can be patient specific anatomy, we can place through using computer aided design tools like solid works, we can place devices that are prototype devices and we can represent anything that you can write an engineering equation for in that system, and literally optimize without ever going to an animal or human trial and that’s pretty special system, there are finite number of these things in the world, and what I was showing Meghan is that when the MDs come in, they immediately trigger to a different use which is very appropriate as well, that is presurgical planning and building prototypes though 3D printing of what the surgery is going to be, perhaps in the next day. So we have been setting in process the opportunity for doing these kinds of things so that the model that I showed Meghan was a slice through the human skull that is horizontal but about through where the ears and eyeballs are, and the reason we have it is that a gentleman was facing a operation to remove a tumor behind his ear. It was already affecting his hearing and his facial expressions. Losing control of the muscles and he was out here and he had gotten access to his CT scans so we scanned, used that, used a program called Mimics, put it up on the screen to segment it and then on a low end 3D printer we printed out that for him the operation was taking place in California so we took it out and showed his surgeon who was quite amazed and all, “Where’d you get that?” So I think routinely we’re gonna see these tools being used to pre-educate the design of the surgical team prior to surgeries and what a great advancement of technology to make it safer and better outcomes and so forth.
– [Meghan] Yeah, that was quite the sight to see. And back a few years ago when I had hip surgery I had a scan but it wasn’t printed, they just showed my hip anatomy on the computer and you could rotate it and see the whole shebang there, but to hold it in your hand is pretty special.
– [Art] Yes. And what we’re finding is that the parents or the guardians wanna take those home. And it allows, it really lowers the anxiety for, particularly for pediatric cases, which a lot of them that were involved with, “Well, here’s your child and here’s his or her heart,” or whatever the problem is, and this is what we’re gonna do and it’s a communication tool that before we had these 3D printers we didn’t do that.
– [Meghan] So tell us more about your fellowship program here and I understand you’re accepting applications soon.
– [Art] Yes, so we have medical device center innovations fellows program, which we are going into our ninth year of the program, it’s very exciting, it’s innovation on steroids and we look worldwide for fellows. We average about 30 patent disclosures a year, which is a lot when people come in and don’t even know each other beforehand and probably sometime in October, November, we’ll be on the street again looking for applicants. So we usually have about two MDs out of the eight and we’re looking for the PhDs or masters, people who are, or folks that really have a passion for innovation and perhaps have a track record already, a couple of our current fellows actually had companies already and have put products out in the market so it’s great fun but it’s very intense program but it’s very worthwhile.
– [Meghan] So how long is each one of the fellowship programs last?
– [Art] Well we go about 10 and a half months and then as an option to continue further for further incubation. Our starting point this year is July 6th so we’re trying to match better the fellowship programs for the MDs, to come in, so it’s more convenient for them and it’s a wonderful program that really, we take a very broad class of individuals, it wouldn’t be so good to have eight mechanical engineers or eight surgeons, so it’s a very broad class and it’s, we get usually about 80 applicants and then bring in, we have a recruiting weekend and in the spring, so we encourage people to think about that, go online and check us out. The main webpage for the center is W-W-W dot MDC dot UMN dot E-D-U. And from there you can go to fellows and also go and look at our design and medical devices conference from there as well, it’s, we just had our 15th anniversary meeting 1200 people in three days and it’s in the second week in April every year, so that’s another opportunity to know us a little bit better.
– [Meghan] And I understand you have one in China this year, too?
– [Art] Yes, so we’ve been asked to do one in Beijing so the almost certain date will be the November 7th through 9th, so if anybody’s in Asia and would like to come take a look you can find information on our webpage for that, too.
– [Meghan] So these fellows, they’re working hard on devices and early stage innovation, what do you see them struggling with that our listeners are probably struggling with too and what are some pointers or just some advice for them to help push through those or imua, push there those tough waves of development?
– [Art] Well, I think we all struggle with so much information. And technology moving so fast and what’s going to be important and what’s not, we try to have them well networked, also when they’re here. And the program goes so fast we tell them that the first week and the second week and at the end they say, “Well, we didn’t believe” “how quickly it goes.” And sometimes, particularly for engineers like myself, sometimes it’s hard to pull the trigger and make a decision.
– [Meghan] Yeah.
– [Art] “Okay, we’re done now, we know it can be better” “but we’re done now.” Also we all know about the Valley of Death. That is you’ve, you have the unmet need that you know you’ve solved pretty well, and you’ve got some level of prototype and, but how do you get it out there? And make sure there’s a decent chance of it actually being commercialized.
– [Meghan] Yeah.
– [Art] So that I think we all struggle with a little bit and some of that is having good network of people and you also have to tell them to stand what value you’re adding, and how you do evaluation of that value as well.
– [Meghan] Okay, so the takeaways from that are just to make a decision, stop with the analysis paralysis, just pick the best one and move forward, and leverage your network if you can’t find someone in your network that’s able to help you commercialize, that’s what Imua services here is here for, so you can check out my website, it’s imua dash services dot com, so you can always go there and keep pushing forward through all those challenges. So Art, what are you most excited about in medical device innovation? We live in such a great time today with all the different tools available to us.
– [Art] I think very exciting is this 3D printing and added manufacturing. We’re doing research on that here as others are as well, I think we’ve only begun to see the opportunities for health care. So where it can really be applied is the populations that are not being affected very well. Pediatric community, where you really have a onesie, right? We need one device for a particular case. Or disease states that are rare, or third world opportunities where the patients are remote from hospitals. So we’re paying a lot of attention to that and then also working with our colleagues at the FDA for trying to deal with the regulatory issues, we’re working with the, as a local company Stratasys, which is pretty big in this area, we need new materials, we need better technologies and I just think it’s gonna be so interesting to see how far this can go.
– [Meghan] Yeah, I think so too, and that regulatory hasn’t quite caught up with the technology, but we’re working on that. But we’re pushing them on for sure.
– [Art] Yeah, I’ve been to a number of their meetings, so also using modeling simulation like finite element analysis and competitional fluid dynamics for doing or passing a regulatory approval quicker with less human and animal trials is another thing that we’re working on here and that ties in as well, we’ve gotta lower the cost of health care and lower the cost of getting new products to the market that are by the way, still safe and effective. So that’s the challenge but I think I’ve very optimistic that we’ll make some good progress in the near future on that.
– [Meghan] So just to recap about the fellowship program and the devices conference and then also, if our listeners want to reach out to you directly, what are the ways that they can do that? So list those sites again and also list your preferred method of contact.
– [Art] Sure. So, the medical devices center which has a lot of buttons on it that will get you to the fellows program and to the design medical devices conference and us is W-W-W dot MDC for medical devices center dot UMN for University of Minnesota dot E-D-U. My email is A for Arthur, G for guy, Erdman, E-R-D-M-A-N at U-M-N dot E-D-U, so feel free to contact me and we’ll put you in touch with either myself or others, we’re very anxious to do the number one job here is improve healthcare. And to do it through innovation and do it through collaborations that make sense and I think we can do a lot better on all those things and I just, I’m excited about what your listeners can do to help and there’s so much out there to do, I don’t look at any group or university or company as competition, I think the more the better, it makes us all better and a breakthrough in Tennessee will help someone in Alaska, help someone in Minnesota, so let’s have at it.
– [Meghan] Wow, so thank you Art, of that amazing interview and I just wanted to remind you guys for any of those links that we talked about today, you can get there two ways. One, by imua dash services dot com slash 012 for episode 12 or our main podcast page at inspired by imua dot com. So while you’re at it and while you’re on the web, everybody needs a little encouragement, everybody needs a community to get through those rough waves we always face. So we have one for you if you go Facebook dot com and then you search Inspired by Imua. That’s our group page so you can connect with others, you can share resources, you can share whims that you’ve had or struggles, or ask questions, so I’d love to see you in there and until the next episode, imua!
– [Narrator] Mahalo for joining us. If you’re new to riding the waves of medical device product development or if you’ve been in development for a while already, Inspired by Imua is here to surf with you. Wanna be a master of the waves? Text hangten, that’s all one word, H-A-N-G-T-E-N to 44222. We’ll send you the most common wipeouts companies make in product development so you can avoid them and reach master wave status. Again, that’s hangten to 44222. We publish a new episode every Tuesday, so catch us at Inspired by Imua dot com. Imua!