Singapore, Biodesign join forces

Feb. 4, 2010, 12:05 a.m.
Singapore, Biodesign join forces
(BECKY WRIGHT/The Stanford Daily)

Stanford’s biodesign program has partnered with Singaporean organizations to create Singapore-Stanford Biodesign (SSB), a program with the goal of training the next generation of medical technology innovators in Asia.

Although the biodesign program was founded about a decade ago, global collaborative programs such as SSB did not begin to surface until more recently. SSB’s official launch was last Friday.

Several years ago, “President Hennessy put out a mandate to the University,” said Christine Kurihara, associate director of SSB. “He said we have the intelligence and resources here to solve the world’s problems, but we’ve only been focused our own problems. He said it was time for the University to look at the world and see what problems there are in healthcare, climate, and energy.”

“That prompted us to start a global program,” she added.

Since then, a pilot program that ran for six months in Mexico and the Stanford-India Biodesign program were created, making SSB the third global medical innovation program designed by Biodesign.

“What’s unique about Singapore and why we’re very attracted to Singapore is that we saw a similar pattern [to Stanford] of them having a confluence of strong academic institutions, research institutions and also industry,” said Chris Shen, executive director of the SSB.

Singaporean fellows selected for this program will work in teams of four, consisting of one clinician and three engineers. The teams will learn what directors call the “biodesign process,” which comprises three phases — clinical immersion, invention and business-plan generation.

During the clinical immersion phase, the fellows will observe the clinical setting in order to find areas that may benefit from improvement in medical technologies. Eventually, the fellows will learn to construct a plan in order to commercialize their product.

Jointly funded by the Singapore Economic Development Board and Alliance for Science Technology and Research, this program will take place over a period of a year. The first six months will be spent at Stanford and the next six in Singapore.

Directors of the program are optimistic about its results. A fecal incontinence device, an intraosseus device and the Jaipure knee, which was selected by CNN as one of the top 10 inventions of 2009 and by TIME Magazine as one of the top 50 inventions of 2009, have all come from Stanford’s biodesign students, faculty and fellows.

“I think we’ve seen our graduates have gone on to do some pretty amazing things,” Shen said. “We’ve treated some 25,000 patients with inventions that have been developed by students.”

While applications to the program are currently restricted to Singaporean nationals, there are future prospects that the program will eventually work both ways — not only allowing Singaporean nationals to come to Stanford, but also sending Stanford students to Singapore.

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