Biomedical Institute is Latest Breakthrough in Health-Care Innovation

Akron’s universities and health-care providers have developed a diverse set of technologies that are improving care delivery, fostering breakthroughs in biomedical research and spawning new companies.

Michaela Jackson
On Tuesday, August 30, 2011 - 04:26

Akron’s universities and health-care providers have developed a diverse set of technologies that are improving care delivery, fostering breakthroughs in biomedical research and spawning new companies.

“It’s a global stage that we’re playing on, so those institu­tions that adopt an ivory-tower mentality will be doomed to extinction. The only walls we have here are the brick ones to protect us from the weather,” says Dr. Jim Dougherty, Akron General Hospital chairman of medical education and research.

A prime example of collaboration among the region’s health and research leaders was the fall 2008 launch of the BioInnovation Institute. Institute founders include Akron Children’s Hospital, Akron General, Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, Summa Health System and The University of Akron. Initial funding has been committed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, FirstEnergy Corp., the State of Ohio, and Summit County to create a world-class center for medical excellence.

The institute, kickstarted by a $20 million grant from the Knight Foundation, positions Akron to capitalize on its tradi­tional strengths in research, education and health care to create new technologies. Institute partners envision:

• Creating a nationally distinctive center of excellence for biomaterials and medicine.

• Translating leading-edge research into new medical devices.

• Rapidly growing annual biomaterials-related research fund­ing across the partners.

• Increasing investment by national firms into regional bio­medical startups and established companies, drawing talent from around the globe and creating thousands of jobs for the region.

In addition to the grant from the Knight Foundation, each founding organization is contributing $4 million in matching funds. The state of Ohio is contributing $8.7 million. FirstEnergy Corp. was the first community supporter of the BioInnovation Institute, with a pledge of up to $10 million over the next 10 years.

The University of Akron has put strong emphasis on multi-disciplinary research, with a goal of growing the local research base 10 to 15 percent annually and becoming a regional hub for technology transfer and wealth creation.

“All major issues facing us today will need to be addressed from a team perspective: health, energy, environment, trans­portation are all too multifaceted to be addressed by single investigators,” says Dr. George Newkome, UA vice president for research.

Research Spurs New Enterprise

From this research, new companies have emerged, includ­ing one developing a biocompatible artificial pancreas.

Summa Health has made research an integral component of its academic and clinical initiatives. Those efforts have helped the hospital system develop a reputation for excellence in cardiology, diabetes, emergency services, orthopaedics, oncology, senior health and renal services, among others.

Akron General focuses on biomedical research through the Calhoun Research Laboratory, a 10,000-square-foot facility that houses researchers and state-of-the-art equipment.

In the past, the goal of research was to discover information and publish it, but the emphasis has shifted to bringing innovation to the bedside.

The center established an office of technology transfer two years ago to combine researchers’ expertise with entrepre­neurs who could create viable products.

“Northeast Ohio is attuned to the opportunities involved in biomedical research. It is actually one of the better areas of the country and it is quite unappreciated when you think about Silicon Valley, Boston and the Research Triangle,” Dougherty says.


Michaela Jackson has worked as a reporter for The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as a freelance writer for a variety of regional and national magazines.