top of page

Innovation Institute 'conversation changer'

Backers say for-profit research would boost health care, region

By: Tom Henderson

CCS students prescribe better medical gear:

Fifteen students of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit spent 14 weeks as volunteers at Henry Ford Hospital last winter and fall, visiting doctors and nurses and hanging around waiting rooms and operating rooms, looking for medical devices and products that could be improved.Each, under the guidance of Vincenzo Iavicoli, a CCS professor and chair of the school's product design program, came up with a specific design with an eye toward commercialization.

In April, they presented their designs to officials behind the new Innovation Institute at Henry Ford."It was one of my most exciting mornings in a long time," said Bob Riney, President and COO of the Henry Ford Health System.He said he was hoping for maybe one idea that had commercial potential. Instead, he got a dozen, four of which have been put on a fast-track for development and possible commercialization.

They are:

• A surgical retractor system for open heart surgery, designed by Mike Forbes.

• An endotracheal device to intubate infants in intensive care, by Samantha Vish.

• An ergonomic operating room chair for physicians, by Vasyl Sydoruk.

• A waiting room communications system, by Eric Myers.

Engineeering support will be provided by members of the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems Program at Wayne State University.

Henry Ford Health System officials have grand plans for a world-renowned center that brings together medical researchers, designers and engineers to create for-profit companies making a wide range of medical products.

"The goal is not just economic growth for Henry Ford but an economic transformation of the region," said Bob Riney, president and COO of the health system. "I really believe this will be a conversation-changer about Detroit on a national level. We have an opportunity to do something here on a very large scale."

The Innovation Institute at Henry Ford will be housed in a three-story Albert Kahn building known as the Old Ed Building. The 38,000-square-foot building, built in 1924 as an educational center for student nurses, currently houses hospital administrators.

The new institute will involve collaborations with such academic institutions as Wayne State University, the College for Creative Studies, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the University of Chicago and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain.

Hospital officials envision spinning out companies making such things as robotic surgery tools and diagnostic devices, ergonomic chairs for doctors during long surgeries and better communications systems for waiting rooms.

The institute, on the hospital's New Center campus, will also involve collaboration and business partnerships with the private sector.

The first corporate partner is Lockheed Martin Corp., which hopes to help the institute win large government grants and forge business relationships among the institute's spinoff companies and such private-sector companies as Texas Instruments and GE Healthcare, a business unit of General Electric Co.

Lockheed Martin is the largest aerospace contractor in the world and runs Albuquerque-based Sandia National Laboratories for the federal government.

Lockheed Martin already has applied for the first grant for the institute, of $20 million, to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop a system for filtering the blood of soldiers with bacterial infections from wounds.

The project, if funded, would be in partnership with Greg Auner, director of the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems Program in WSU's Engineering School. The award is expected to be announced this summer.

Lockheed, Auner and the institute are working on a second large grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Defense to make a sensor-based, portable device to detect proteins associated with traumatic brain injury in soldiers in the field.

Riney said he has had talks with area venture capitalists about investing in spinoffs.

"They've told us, "When you're ready, let us know,' " he said.

"This is designed to be a revenue-producing system," said Scott Dulchavsky, chief of surgery at Henry Ford and one of the early proponents for the institute.

Henry Ford plans to generate revenue by licensing patents generated by the institute, as well as by having an equity stake in some of the for-profit businesses formed and incubated there.

In addition, doctors and hospital executives could serve as angel investors providing startup capital for companies, sharing in profits as they grow and are acquired by larger companies.

Currently, the health care system generates a modest total of about $1 million in royalty revenue for various patents held by staff.

"It hasn't been a focus. It needs to be," Dulchavsky said.

A grant from William Clay Ford and his wife, Martha, recently got construction started. The first phase -- 7,000 square feet on the second floor -- is scheduled to be done by late summer and serve as a showcase for a Nov. 3 TED (technology, education, design) conference the hospital is hosting.

The second-phase build-out of the other two floors is expected to take about two years. The total rehab is budgeted at $10 million. The Smith Group is the architect, Albert Kahn Associates of Detroit is providing engineering support, and DeMaria Building Co. of Detroit is construction manager.

Riney said the institute grew out of what he called an "Aha!" moment while on a tour of the Ford Motor Co. Rouge plant four years ago.

He said he was struck by the precision of the robotics systems and the plant's design and thought there must be an almost unlimited opportunity to incorporate new technologies and modern design into health care.

"With the talent we have in health care and all the engineering and design we have in this community, the value is endless," Riney said.

This winter and spring, 15 students at the College for Creative Studies volunteered at Henry Ford Hospital for 14 weeks, spending time with doctors and patients as they came up with individual design projects under the direction of Vincenzo Iavicoli, chairman of product design at CCS.

Four of the student projects have been put on a fast track for development. (See related story above.)

Details have yet to be worked out, but Mahdu Prasad, M.D., a Henry Ford surgeon who will be the institute's director, said the plan is to create at least some for-profit companies based on the students' work, with the students having some ownership in partnership with Henry Ford Health System, CCS and investors.

The trial CCS program was considered such a success that CCS and hospital officials will make it ongoing.

Julio Mayol, M.D., is a robotics surgeon at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and a founder of the Madrid Network, a health care cluster that helps fund and create biotech startups.

Mayol and Prasad were fellows together at Harvard Medical School in the late 1990s, and in 2008, along with physicians at the University of Chicago, founded iSurgitec, a consortium of medical institutions that fosters surgical technology innovation.

"Our collaboration with Henry Ford would result in a competitive advantage over other U.S. or European initiatives because we would be able to compete more effectively for supranational funding now available through the European Union and NATO," said Mayol, referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

He also said the Madrid Network has investors who would be likely to invest in joint ventures between the Spanish consortium and the Henry Ford Institute.

Carnegie Mellon is renowned as one of the world's top centers for robotics design and virtual reality systems to help doctors plan for and practice complicated surgeries.

Riney said he would love to have Carnegie Mellon help Henry Ford design a cheaper, better, smaller substitute for the hospital's DaVinci robotic surgery devices. He said the DaVincis are cumbersome, use 30-year-old technology and cost up to $1.5 million each.

The dean of Carnegie Mellon's engineering school is Predeep Khosla, a former program manager at DARPA who is on the advisory board of iNetworks Advisors Inc., a Pittsburgh-based capital firm with a Detroit office. Auner is a managing director of iNetworks here.

Michael Dudzik, vice president of science and technology in Lockheed Martin's Washington office, said Auner's involvement was key to his participation.

"He's doing some of the best sensor-based work in the world," he said. "You bring Greg an application, and he's capable of building a transducer or a sensor and making you a prototype."

Dudzik said the partnership with Henry Ford fits into Lockheed Martin's strategy of "teaming with institutions to drive the next generation of products in emerging areas with major impacts across our customer base."

"These are technologies that can be very enabling and clearly have some cutting-edge benefits. The institute is going to be a real plus for Michigan."

Dudzik said a chief role for the company will be helping companies land the Small Business Innovation Research funding that is crucial "to grow the small firms that can become our suppliers."

One name first mulled for the institute's name was Alva Park, a reference both to the middle name of Thomas Edison, a close friend of Henry Ford, and to Edison's Menlo Park research center.

Officials decided to go with the Innovation Institute at Henry Ford while they pursue possible naming rights with benefactors.

"The reason we need physical space," said Prasad, "is so people of different backgrounds -- engineers, physicians and designers -- can come together and share their ideas and have eureka moments."

bottom of page