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Student Innovations Group Inspires Medical Technology Development

 ENS Michael Goldstein, now president of the Medical Innovations Interest Group, points to a slide about a carotid cooling technique. He and 2nd Lt. Conrad Dear, current vice president of the group, on the right, recently presented their innovative concept to a panel of USU faculty members and physicians to gain feedback on whether their project would be ready for the next phase of development. (photo by Sarah Marshall)
By Sarah Marshall

The world needs innovative thinkers; people who can develop creative solutions to complex challenges. The Department of Defense is filled with idea people; after all, wasn’t it DOD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that invented the internet?

Medical students at the Uniformed Services University (USU) recently started the Medical Innovations Interest Group, or MI2G, to empower students to think of creative solutions to the medical problems they learn about during their studies.

The student-led group is made up of more than 80 medical students, and was started in 2018 by Army 2nd Lt. Bradley Pierce. In his first year of medical school, while at a student interest group fair on campus, Pierce said he realized the university did not have a forum devoted specifically to learning about how they, as future physicians, could develop novel medical technologies and potentially address future challenges. Knowing how healthcare providers can be both empowered and limited by the medical technology available to them, he started formulating the idea for this group. Through MI2G, not only could they connect with and learn from physicians who have developed their own medical technology, but the group could also partner with other interest groups at USU, as well as USU Centers, giving students greater visibility of technological limitations and access to opportunities for innovation in medicine, particularly in their own fields of interest.

The interest group hosts regular meetings with physicians and scientists as guests, according to Pierce, who is now in his third year at USU. MI2G also supports the development of student-led group projects, using out-of-the-box thinking to tackle military relevant medical challenges.

Last fall, MI2G hosted its first Medical Innovations Panel, inspired by the television show, Shark Tank.  Four teams of students presented their creative technology designs and concepts to a panel of physicians and experts that included Dr. Joseph Lopreiato, Dr. David Brody, Dr. Vince Ho, Dr. Laura Tilley, Dr. Fred Lough, Dr. Kent Werner, and others. Dr. Bruce Doll, Dr. Aoife Cullen, and Ms. Sarah Stanton represented USU’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office of General Counsel, as well as the tech development teams.  Faculty advisors came up with the idea, hoping it would provide students a pathway to potentially pursue patents on their ideas – something that has never been done at the university before.

A man is giving a presentation. The slide says "Current Technology"
Army 2nd Lt. Bradley Pierce recently presented a concept he came up with to help with brain cooling to potentially help
in treating traumatic brain injuries. He was offered feedback from a panel of faculty members and physicians at USU.
(Photo by Sarah Marshall)

The panel reviewed the proposals and provided feedback on whether they might be able to move forward onto the next phase of development through the university.

One of the innovative concepts presented during the Medical Innovations Panel was the USU Traumatic Brain Injury Cooling Initiative. This idea involves developing novel brain cooling strategies that could potentially improve post-TBI recovery for the warfighter, Pierce explained.
“Traumatic brain injuries can have debilitating long-lasting negative consequences and current research suggests selective brain cooling following an acute TBI has the potential to improve long-term recovery outcomes,” he said. “Current brain cooling devices are not specifically designed to be used by the U.S. armed forces … and so there exists a need to develop a lightweight and portable brain cooling apparatus that can be used by the warfighter, in austere environments, to provide point of injury care to potentially improve post-TBI rehabilitation.”

He also noted that the presentation was a collaborative effort between the MI2G leadership for the classes of 2022 and 2023, which helped to ensure the project would continue to progress on campus once the upper classmen left for their clerkship rotations throughout the country.

Pierce explained that the feedback they received from the panel was critical in their innovation process, and the event certainly helped these teams develop their concepts even further.

“We have been able to leverage the diverse experiences of our classmates and mentors to focus on a single medical problem, and show students the process of innovation early in their medical careers, so that they can draw upon this experience when they find a medical problem they are passionate about in the future,” Pierce said. “The ultimate goal was to have this event inspire the next generation of medical pioneers at USU, and show how the USU student body is unique in that we are able to work with physicians and experts from a wide variety of fields to come up with creative solutions for military relevant medical challenges,” he said.

Pierce added that innovation in military medicine is a critical and necessary aspect in maintaining and expanding the nation’s ability to project force around the world throughout the 21st century.

A group of a faculty members sit at tables, offering feedback to USU students.
Faculty from USU offer feedback to students in USU's
Medical Innovations Interest Group, who are working to
develop technologies that could help offer solutions to
medical problems they're learning about in medical school.
(Photo by Sarah Marshall)
“As future leaders of military medicine, medical students at USU will be responsible for overcoming the unforeseen challenges future conflicts may present,” he said. “As such, it is crucial that the medical students of today learn how to develop a mindset that allows them to understand the process of innovation so that they can work to solve the medical challenges they will face in the future.”

Pierce hopes MI2G will collaborate with other medical and engineering universities to greatly lessen the design learning curve for medical students who might not have an engineering background.

“Innovation in medicine is increasingly becoming an interdisciplinary effort and it is necessary for students to learn how to work with and effectively communicate with others who have a diverse knowledge base to create real solutions to today’s problems,” he said. “Partnering medical students at USU with engineering students will facilitate student innovation and help inspire students to think creatively, which will improve the education experience for each university.”

Dr. Martin Ottolini, professor of Pediatrics and assistant dean for Student Research (the Capstone Program) was among USU’s faculty members who sat on the panel, and has served as an advisor to the student interest group. Ottolini noted that the mission of any university is to pursue learning and contribute to society through scholarship of research and innovation.

“The student-led Medical Innovations Interest Group fosters that scholarship, by encouraging students to partner with faculty mentors to develop novel solutions to address technology gaps identified by our military medical community,” Ottolini said. “Also, USU’s research capabilities have grown rapidly, particularly in the expansion of the multi-disciplinary research centers which are tremendous incubators that support our students’ exploration of innovative technologies.”

Down the road, MI2G hopes to offer shadow opportunities, and is looking to host a series of talks by physicians on how devices are actually used day-to-day.  The group is open to medical students at USU, as well as Department of Defense physicians and researchers. Those interested in more information, or who wish to become involved, should contact the current MI2G president Ensign Michael Goldstein, at michael.goldstein@usuhs.edu, or MI2G vice president, 2nd Lt. Conrad Dear, at conrad.dear@usuhs.edu.