THIRD FRONTIER FUNDS BOOST BIOMEDICAL IMAGING AT OSU
Seven years have passed since the first grants were awarded under Ohio’s Third Frontier jobs and economic development program. Two of those grants, totaling $17.1 million, went to Ohio State’s Wright Center of Innovation in Biomedical Imaging (WCI-BMI) with outstanding results.
That project, led by principal investigator Michael Knopp, MD, PhD, professor of Radiology and a member of the Experimental Therapeutics Program at the OSUCCC-James, has paid off the investment many times over, advanced biomedical technology, expanded medical services and created a platform for economic success on a global scale. In truth, it has evolved beyond the earliest dreams of Knopp and his partners.
Originally conceived as a project to develop, build and market an ultra-high-resolution magnetic imaging machine (a super MRI), in seven years it has done that and more. With major partners Case Western Reserve University and Philips Medical Systems Cleveland, the team has built 10 Philips 7T Achieva radiology machines, with sales to date of $78.5 million and pending sales of $464 million. WCI-BMI has created 378 jobs and returned $9 for every state dollar initially invested.
To Jay Mazelsky, senior vice president and general manager of computed tomography and nuclear medicine at Philips, “Innovation in the medical device industry occurs at the intersection of clinical practice and industry R&D.” Third Frontier investments have helped Philips tackle problems that require their own engineering and science experts to combine forces with academic research partners who have clinical expertise.
The collaboration has produced what might be called the “high-def” version of an MRI. With this more powerful instrument, doctors can see their patients’ internal functions with greater clarity, avoiding invasive procedures in reaching a diagnosis. With the new micro-imaging facility, doctors also can monitor the success of an operation while the patient is still on the table.
“When the tumor is removed, we image it at the micro-imaging facility to see if the whole tumor has been removed, without having to reopen the patient,” says Robert McKenney, PhD, research assistant professor of Radiology and director of Imaging Research and Administrative Services (IRAS).
A mobile radiology unit with a somewhat different type of scanner travels to Nationwide Children’s Hospital weekly, providing pediatric patients with imaging capabilities and serving as part of WCI-BMI’s community outreach function.
Not content to rest on their achievements, WCI-BMI researchers, together with Cardinal Health, are investigating how MRI and other types of imaging, such as PET and CT scanning, can be used for “molecular imaging,” in which specialized imaging agents seek out cellular functions that indicate the presence of specific diseases such as multiple sclerosis or cancer. This sophisticated imaging will permit the early detection of disease, often before the patient experiences symptoms, and thus allow rapid treatment and better patient outcomes.
Of the many byproducts and spin-offs of the WCI-BMI project, among the most rewarding and least expected has been the expansion of radiological advances into animal medicine. Time-sharing with Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine creates an opportunity to use magnetic imaging equipment with both animal and human patients and research subjects. “We don’t care if our patients have two legs or four,” McKenney says.
McKenney sees the Third Frontier program as “a marriage counselor for industry and academia to meet and raise kids together. We’ve matched up our partners and given birth to more jobs.” In fact, he adds, “It filled a vision far greater than what was imagined.” It has gone from a finite project in 2003 to “a machine that propels itself.”
State Issue 1, a measure to extend the Third Frontier program through 2016, has been placed on the May 4 ballot following a strong bipartisan vote of the Ohio General Assembly. The ballot issue is supported by a statewide coalition of business, labor and university leaders. Since the Third Frontier program’s inception in 2002, competitive grants awarded to business, industry and universities for innovative projects have generated more than 48,000 Ohio jobs, according to an independent analysis.