Biomedical engineers mean business
U.Va., professor makes it his business to teach business
to biomedical engineering students.
This is just one of many ways that U.Va. has put itself
in the forefront of biomedical engineering education.
by Andrew Shurtleff
Lee (above right and below center) instructing students in
his Biomedical Engineering Entrepreneurship class.
By Charlotte Crystal
far, George Gillies hasnt made a dime from his invention
a system that magnetically guides catheters along the natural
pathways of the brain so that surgeons dont have to drill
through brain tissue to reach deeply embedded tumors.
one day, he and his three co-inventors will see a financial reward
from the 18 years theyve spent developing this revolutionary
system, which may also have applications in cardiology and ophthalmology.
the meantime, Gillies told the students in Biomedical
Engineering Entrepreneurship, his reward for his efforts is
in knowing he has helped improve the surgical outcomes for brain
tumor patients fighting for their lives. And from a technical
point of view, its been an exciting challenge.
best part of the experience has been to see the invention go from
a ball bearing and a bowl of gelatin to an apparatus on the order
of a CT scanner, Gillies said.
for the first time this semester, the interdisciplinary course
offers instruction in two areas, biotechnology analysis and entrepreneurship,
according to its creator, Jen-shih Lee, U.Va. professor of biomedical
biomedical engineering courses expose students to FDA regulations,
[University of] Michigan offers students some career development,
[Johns] Hopkins talks about [Small Business Innovation and Research]
grants, but no one has the depth that we have, from invention
to business launch, Lee said.
Fourteen undergraduates and two graduate students have signed
up for the class.
polled his students and was surprised to find that most planned
to pursue graduate studies, whether in biomedical engineering,
medicine or law. But after a decade or so of school and business
experience, most of his students 60 percent wanted
to start their own companies.
class fits into their long-term plans, he said.
far, no graduates of U.Va.s biomedical engineering program,
currently ranked 15th in the country by U.S. News & World
Report, have founded their own biotech companies. But Lee hopes
that over the next 20 years, this class will change that.
designing the course, Lee has coupled lectures with student projects.
Guest lecturers include entrepreneurs; inventors, such as Gillies;
a former Food and Drug Administration official; and a biotech
business owner and venture capitalist.
will learn how to conduct a patent search and determine whether
competitive products are available; how to submit a medical device
application to the Food and Drug Administration; how to apply
for a federal Small Business Innovation and Research grant; how
to develop financial projections for the new product; how to write
a formal business plan; and how to make a presentation to venture
capitalists and negotiate a business deal that will protect their
interest in their intellectual property.
final class project, which represents 40 percent of each students
grade, involves developing a professional-quality business plan.
Student teams are developing such plans for three inventions
a vascular stent, used to reinforce a weakened arterial wall;
a mattress pad packed with electronic sensors to transmit data
used in diagnosing sleep disorders; and a visual prosthesis, a
set of electrodes that stimulate the optical nerve for patients
who are losing their sight due to macular degeneration.
want our students to know something about business, so that later,
when they want to build companies around their technology, theyll
be prepared, Lee said.
Lee is also interested in entrepreneurship on a personal basis.
Lee and his wife, Lian Lee, who holds a doctorate in chemistry,
started a company, CardioResearch Inc., to develop products that
build on Jen-shih Lees academic work in fluid mechanics
and blood flow. Lian Lee is president and research director and
Lee is scientific consultant for the young company, which is developing
a system to monitor low blood pressure in hemodialysis patients.
wife is the entrepreneur, Lee said, but Im still
making a contribution as a professor, a researcher and an administrator.
Building the biomedical engineering profession is my commitment.