A partnership between Grand Valley State University and Spectrum Health Innovations could lead to new medical devices and startup companies.
Brent Mulder, senior director of innovation for Spectrum Health Innovations, said the hospital system has a lot of clinicians with great ideas for new products, but “they aren’t engineers,” a major barrier to bringing their ideas to fruition.
To overcome that barrier, Spectrum Health Innovations began partnering its clinicians with GVSU biomedical engineering students who could create the envisioned products.
“It’s amazing what they are able to come up with,” Mulder said.
Mulder said Spectrum Health Innovations and GVSU have partnered on a couple dozen projects already. Recent projects include an in-bed exercise machine, an intravenous drug pump for home use and a female external urinary device.
John Farris, GVSU biomedical engineering professor, who teaches a medical device design class, explained the collaborative process.
He said his students, who are typically in graduate programs, meet with the clinicians for interviews and observational visits prior to starting on a project. After those visits, they spend time defining the problem and creating alternative solutions. Farris said sometimes students produce videos highlighting the various solutions they’ve come up with, which they present to the clinicians.
After narrowing down the solution to three options, the students and clinicians take part in a design review before setting forth to create a prototype of the final selection.
Farris said one of the program’s challenges is that students typically work on a project for only a semester since they are doing the project as part of their coursework.
“One group is working on it in the fall, and then the other group comes in and they pick up the project from there,” Farris said.
He said that makes documentation particularly important.
Farris said there is some benefit to having new students come onboard to work on an existing project — they bring new ideas.
Farris said this past year a group of students embarked on the first yearlong project, which he is excited about.
Mulder noted the path from “cocktail napkin sketches to the marketplace” is long, and many products won’t make it there.
The partnership has seen early success, however.
"The product designs and prototypes developed through this collaboration have led to patents being filed, students winning business plan competitions, and students licensing intellectual property from Spectrum Health Innovations to start their own companies,” Farris said.
Farris said Eric Van Middendorp, a Grand Valley engineering alumnus, is one of the program’s success stories.
Van Middendorp developed an endotracheal tube holder as a graduate assistant at Spectrum Health Innovations — where he now works as a mechanical design engineer. The device provides structural support to breathing tubes connected to patients.
Van Middendorp has won several business plan competitions, including GreenLight Michigan Business Model Competition, where he took first place and received $25,000 to further develop his device.
“He licensed the patent back from Spectrum and GVSU and now he is building a business, and is going to probably license it to a manufacturer,” Farris said.
Farris said two other students have intellectual property currently being evaluated.
“We’ve probably run 10 projects, and the one with Eric is the closest to getting to the market, followed by a medical device we did without Spectrum. GVSU has intellectual property on that and licensed it back to a student company,” Farris said. “Two we did last semester are looking like they have commercial potential.”
Farris said the program is becoming more successful at creating designs and prototypes as it goes along.
The partnership has expanded beyond GVSU’s engineering department, with business students, computer sciences students and others getting involved in other aspects of bringing a new product to the marketplace, such as developing a business case for the new product.
Farris expects these additional collaborations will improve the program’s success rate.
The overall goal of the program is to drive health care innovation in the community.
“We are trying to connect our ideas from clinicians and seed them into these university programs,” Mulder said. “We aren’t a medical device company; we are a community hospital system. Our primary goal is to serve our patients in the best manner possible.”
Farris said the students working on the projects are the ones who are going to “drive the economy” in the future.
“I’m proud to have gotten this far,” he said.
Spectrum Health Innovations has similar partnerships with other West Michigan universities including Hope College, Kendall College of Art and Design and Central Michigan University.
GVSU is also working on developing medical devices independent of its partnership with Spectrum Health Innovations.