Q&A with Professor Gregory Fischer, director of PracticePoint



Q: Can you give an example of how the MRI machine is used in the space? What healthcare solutions are being developed with an MRI machine?

Prof. Fischer: The MRI offers advanced medical imaging capabilities to support a wide array of faculty research and the development efforts of our corporate partners. Examples include development and testing of MRI-compatible surgical systems that take advantage of real-time intraoperative imaging to precisely guide instrument placement—this can enable very precise target biopsy for diagnosis and precision therapeutic delivery and monitoring. Another example is supporting our neuroscience research including functional MR imaging of brain activity under various activities and coupling fMRI with other sensing capabilities such as EEG, fNIRS, and ultrasound.


Q: Why is there a homelike setting in this facility? What happens there?

Prof. Fischer: We have several care suites mimicking healthcare delivery settings in home and hospital. One suite is a highly instrumented one-bedroom apartment that includes patient support equipment, tracking and imaging, flexible wired and wireless networking, and other capabilities. It can be used for developing and testing home monitoring and telehealth systems, assistive devices, and a host of other applications.


Q: It looks like there is a lot of motion-capture technology at PracticePoint. How does motion-capture help with the development of devices for better healthcare?

Prof. Fischer: In many scenarios we want to know how people, robots, or other objects move. Motion capture enables high precision, high speed tracking of objects in the space where the system is setup. For example, it can be used to monitor the way in which someone walks and use that information to mimic the configuration and walking pattern of an exoskeleton. Or it can be used as a platform for assessing how someone uses a device by monitoring the device and the user’s hands. It could be used intraoperatively to track where an instrument is relative to a patient and surgical plans. And another example is using it for accuracy assessment of robots, such as for example our neurosurgery robot.


Q: Will WPI faculty and students have free use of the facility to use for their research as outside membership increases?

Prof. Fischer: WPI faculty and students will have access to the facility to support their research and projects. A number of student projects have already benefitted from use. Also, it is a good opportunity for students to work with companies. It will not be free for students and faculty—because it is a federal requirement that we charge all users at least the same rate we charge the government for use (i.e. what we get paid for on grants to use the facility). The plan is to have a fund of money that students and faculty can apply to for funding to support internal projects. This would be a great fund for our alumni, parents, and friends to support, enabling our students and faculty to advance WPI research and student projects happening at PracticePoint.


Q: How do we ensure we continue to have the top of the line devices over the years? Is that what the membership fees will support?

Prof. Fischer: PracticePoint’s initial launch was supported by the state and by WPI. Ongoing support, and especially new equipment purchases, will be supported through membership, sponsorships, corporate donations, and individual philanthropy from our alumni, parents, and friends. We welcome folks to help support bringing online new advanced capabilities to support our students, faculty, and companies.


Q: Does WPI, its faculty and/or students have the ability to utilize data and research that other companies/groups obtain while using the facility?

Prof. Fischer: No, not in general—companies usually keep their work confidential. We do have collaborative projects where students and faculty work closely on joint projects, typically under nondisclosure agreements like a corporate sponsored MQP.


Q: What went into the development of the space? How were the particular devices selected and sourced?

Prof. Fischer: It was a massive multi-year effort to design the facility with input from many academic, industry, and clinical stakeholders to identify the needs.


Q: Is there anything out there in use yet that was produced at PracticePoint?

Prof. Fischer: PracticePoint is a brand new facility launched in the last several months. We anticipate it supporting a large number of student projects, federally funded faculty research efforts, and commercialization efforts to get these devices out into use.