An Enterprising Program for Design Education Students

7/11 Pratt School of Engineering

The new Duke Design Health Fellows program connects the engineering classroom to biomedical commercialization

An Enterprising Program for Design Education Students

The new Duke Design Health Fellows Program exposes students to the biomedical engineering commercialization process. Comprising clinical fellows from the School of Medicine, professional students from the Fuqua School of Business, and graduates and undergraduates from Duke Engineering, the interdisciplinary program takes an integrated look at innovation. The multi-school partnership exposes Design Health Fellows to copious and impactful opportunities to revolutionize digital health and medical devices through design. It also connects students to the enterprising networks needed to foster an impact through medicine.

Although this is the program’s pilot year, Eric Richardson, associate professor of the practice in biomedical engineering, notes that the program has received “overwhelming support and mentorship from the Duke community, the Duke Clinical Research Institute and the broader entrepreneurial community in Durham.”

The program’s immediate success is in part because of its dedicated leadership. Pioneered by Richardson and Joe Knight, adjunct professor of biomedical engineering, who quickly added Paul Fearis, senior lecturing fellow and director of designs and insights, the program could not have more innovative directors. A veteran in biomedical design, Richardson recently transitioned to Duke from Rice University, where he was the founding director of the Global Medical Innovation Program, a program similar to the Design Health Fellows but focused on global emerging markets. Richardson was also the associate director of the Texas Medical Center Biodesign Fellowship, which connected scholars to a comprehensive venture formation curriculum with the goal of developing medical device startups.

An innovator himself, Richardson previously served as a principal research and development engineer at Medtronic and developed a transcatheter heart valve—a product that currently serves over 100,000 patients. Coupled with Richardson’s demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit, Knight is currently a core faculty member in the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative as well as the CEO of InnAVasc Medical, a company started at Duke which designs and develops products for vascular access for hemodialysis. And Fearis recently joined Pratt after 30 years in the medical device design industry and a pivotal teaching role in the Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design at Johns Hopkins University.

Three students work at a lab bench on electronicsRichardson explains that instead of having students solve predefined problems, the program allows students to actively identify, validate and prioritize problems that have an impact on human health.

Beginning in September of every year, the competitive partnership is a nine-month program in which fellows are exposed to clinical environments and use structured ethnography tools to collect unmet needs. Fellows then screen, prototype and analyze hundreds of these needs using a system of market analyses, intellectual property assessments and other tools to transition to an entrepreneurial concept. The team then develops business, regulatory, reimbursement, clinical and manufacturing plans to deploy a polished product and business model that they can choose to take to market.

The program’s encouragement of diverse, dynamic partnerships complements other biomedical design and Pratt opportunities.

This year’s fellows decided to focus on peripheral artery disease and heart failure. Richardson adds that the two teams of fellows, still in the development phase, have been deeply immersed within clinical environments. To further develop their identified unmet needs (and hopefully impacted fields), Richardson said, “They have visited the heart failure clinic and talked to patients, observed surgical cases in the operating room, and seen interventional procedures in the catheterization lab.” The teams will be presenting their top three needs to the dean of Duke Engineering and Duke University Hospital’s chief of cardiology and chair of surgery.

While he makes it clear that “the current teams have met and exceeded our expectations,” Richardson hopes to add to and improve the pilot program for the next iteration of students. Richardson elaborates that this year, the partnership, which aligns with other dedicated enterprises in which he has invested his time, is a “highly talented team of people with a mix of engineering, clinical, and business training and experience. It’s this diversity that makes working with them so much fun.”

Jackson McNabb is a first-year student interested in electrical/computer and biomedical engineering.