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PracticePoint: A Conversation with the President

September 26, 2017
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President Leshin talks about PracticePoint with Gregory Fischer and Stephen Flavin

PracticePoint at WPI is a landmark healthcare technology initiative that brings together academia, industry, and healthcare practitioners in a central point of research, development, and real-world testing. President Leshin spoke with two key members of the PracticePoint initiative—PracticePoint director Gregory Fischer (center), associate professor of mechanical engineering and robotics engineering and director of WPI’s Automation and Interventional Medicine Robotics Research Laboratory, and VP of Academic and Corporate Engagement Stephen Flavin (left)—to help our readers understand just how important this enterprise is for WPI.

LL PracticePoint is really all about the idea of cyber-physical systems in health and medicine. So to start, let’s explain to everybody … what are cyber-physical systems?

GF Well, we’re excited, as this aligns very well with our robotics engineering program. If you think about robots, there’s sensors, there’s actuators, there’s intelligence; and that’s essentially cyber physical systems in a much broader sense. So, what we’re talking about are smart medical devices.

LL Right. Smart devices that help us be healthier. Let’s talk more about what PracticePoint actually is.

SF PracticePoint is going to create a unique environment—one that brings together academia, industry, and healthcare practitioners in a single place where they can do rapid research development and applied testing. This environment is very disruptive and innovative, and I think we have all the elements to bring together an exciting initiative.

LL I think it’s going to be amazing, because it’s going to provide a place where people can try things out, test new things. I love your story, Greg, about trying to test surgical robots inside MRI scanners at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at 3 a.m. What were some of the challenges you faced in trying to test these things?

GF When you’re putting together a medical device, it requires iterative development. So you need to be able to get into these clinical care scenarios, do your testing, get back and perform engineering changes and modifications, and then return to the clinical settings. It can take days, weeks—even months—between these experiments. So, we’re excited about the idea of interweaving these point of practice care scenarios with engineering, R&D, and manufacturing facilities that are co-located.

LL So there’ll be certain kinds of environments within PracticePoint that will serve as test beds. Tell us about a couple of these environments.

GF We’re going to have a hybrid medical imaging and operating room suite, plus a controlled-care scenario to mock up an emergency room, or a clinical care scenario. We’ll also have a residential suite and a rehab suite.

LL  Love the idea of the residential suite. That, to me, resonates with the idea of aging at home. And soon we’ll be receiving data and information out of smart homes that will help people stay healthier, longer, all within their own homes. We need places
to test those concepts out. And it’s not just the devices, right? It’s understanding how to get the data safely, securely; it’s all about making sure they’re hacker-proof as well, right?

GF Absolutely. This is about designing security into these devices from the ground up.

LL This was a great win for WPI. Tell us a bit about the funding, and where it’s coming from.

SF We worked with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC) and secured a $5 million capital grant to help build out this facility at WPI’s Gateway Park. In addition to the MTC, we have core founding partners and complementary partners—like UMass Medical School and MITRE—and our anchor partners at GE Healthcare, who have committed $2.5 million over two years to help get this initiative off the ground.

LL Why this is important to do right now?

GF Medical devices are obviously a core business within the commonwealth. So, WPI’s expertise in robotics and cyber-physical systems, plus our cybersecurity knowledge, is a perfect combination, as well as an opportunity to accelerate this industry. This is an ideal time.

LL  I can’t wait to see where PracticePoint takes us. Thanks so much to you both. 

A Conversation with the President

Featuring President Laurie Leshin, Gregory Fischer and Stephen Flavin

Interview with President Leshin