"With this capability we now make it much easier to transform the 'napkin sketch' into something you can hold and use", stated University of Michigan Medical Innovation Center founder and executive director James Geiger, M.D., an associate professor of surgery in the University of Michigan Medical School.
Founded in 2008 to foster innovation and help inventors get new medical technologies to patients, the Medical Innovation Center is a University of Michigan partnership initially funded by University of Michigan's Department of Surgery, Medical School, Medical School Office of Research, Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research (MICHR), College of Engineering, School of Dentistry and Office of the Vice President of Research.
Prototypes are critical for the advancement and commercialization of medical device ideas, stated Brenda Jones, managing director of the Medical Innovation Center. The lab's new rapid prototyping equipment includes a laser-guided 3D printer and a stereo lithography assembly, which can transform an inventor's computer-aided design into a plastic resin prototype in about 12 hours. A third machine follows an inventor's design to create extremely small metal or plastic parts. A grant from MICHR made the $415.000 purchase possible.
Inventors need to create prototypes to see if a proposed solution to a problem will work. Prototypes also generate test data to show a device is safe and effective - data that's needed to move forward with a license agreement or new business venture funding and regulatory approval.
With the new machines, lab staff can produce prototypes in a fraction of the time formerly needed to machine them. That shortens the path to a final product. Projects can range from a surgical device intended for manufacture and marketing to surgeons worldwide to a replacement body part customized for one young paediatric patient. "These machines make it affordable to visualize what your product will be like", stated Toby Donajkowski, MIC prototype specialist.
One important current project in the lab is the FlexDex, a laparoscopic surgery instrument being developed by Geiger and College of Engineering faculty members Shorya Awtar, Sridhar Kota and Albert Shih. The flexible FlexDex features more dexterity and intuitive control than the current instruments on the market and should prove far less costly. The University of Michigan Office of Technology Transfer has filed a utility patent on the technology, which has not yet been licensed to a company.
The Medical Innovation Center's recent $2 million, two-year award from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set up the Michigan Pediatric Device Consortium, M-PED, is a shot in the arm for University of Michigan's efforts to develop paediatric devices. The FDA, concerned at the slow pace at which paediatric devices are commercialized, sought proposals from the non-profit sector to speed the process. Of the three resulting FDA awards, University of Michingan's is the largest.
The MIC Design and Prototype Lab will be crucial in the consortium's work. The lab also provides a space for students interested in the development of medical devices to get guided hands-on experience in the design and manufacture of prototypes.