University-industry collaboration will take S.C. economy to the next level

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[ ABOVE: Dan Simionescu reaches for the top of a bioreactor in his lab. ]

 

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Pretty much everyone in South Carolina would like to see the state attract new industry, create jobs and be better positioned to compete in the global marketplace.

As Clemson University faculty members, one of the crucial ingredients we bring to the economic development mix is academic research. But we’re taking our research to the next level by collaborating with industry, and our experience could be instructive to others.

Each of us is teaming with Greenville Health System on separate research projects that could be transformative in health care. Our work is an example of not only how Clemson and GHS can work together, but how academia and industry anywhere can unite for the common good.

It starts with recognition of synergies between institutions. In our case, Clemson brings to the table a wealth of research and educational expertise, while GHS clinicians make sure that the research reflects patient needs. The collaboration gives researchers from both organizations an opportunity to try ideas in a clinical setting.

Dr. Simionescu, an associate professor of bioengineering, is working with GHS clinicians to grow coronary and femoral arteries in a lab using stem cells from human fat.

The need is great. Nearly a half million surgeries are performed in the United States each year to replace diseased arteries in the heart and lungs at a total cost of about $10 billion. Doctors normally get replacements by grafting veins or arteries from other parts of the patient’s body, but about a third of patients do not have healthy veins or arteries.

Switching to lab-grown arteries would help prevent complications because grafts would no longer be needed. And patients would be less likely to reject lab-grown arteries than artificial materials because the arteries would come from a patient’s own stem cells.

Several patents and patent-pending ideas have been generated from the research, and a startup company has been launched.

For Dr. Simionescu, working with GHS clinicians and medical students is essential. Clemson researchers meet with clinicians and students on a monthly basis to report findings and plans. They provide critical feedback on whether the team is moving in the right direction.

Two GHS doctors in particular have been crucial to the team’s success. Dr. Chris Wright, a cardiothoracic surgeon at GHS, serves as the lead clinician on the team. Dr. Eugene Langan, a vascular surgeon and chief of surgery at GHS, is also a member of the team and has worked with Clemson bioengineers for more than 15 years.

Meanwhile, Dr. Taaffe, an associate professor of industrial engineering, is working with GHS clinicians to develop an app that would – appropriately enough – improve collaboration within hospitals. The app, called Periop Mobile, would help staff, clinicians and managers coordinate more efficiently when patients go to the hospital for surgery. The app could transform perioperative services spanning from the time the patient arrives, to pre-op, to the patient’s time in the operating room, and finally to post op.

The goal is to introduce technology that would get adopted in a broader health care setting and that would lead to better decision making. Those better decisions would improve patient safety, reduce costs and increase efficiency.

GHS has been critical in the development of the Periop Mobile app. Dr. Taaffe and the Clemson researchers working under him spent a lot of time early on understanding staff needs, interviewing and surveying GHS clinicians to come up with the design. Since then, the app has gone through multiple revisions, all along guided by feedback from GHS.

Dr. Mark Pruitt, a GHS anesthesiologist, has been extremely important to the project. Further, Clemson-GHS embedded scholar Robert Allen is working closely with both Drs. Pruitt and Taaffe, and he is already making contributions that will benefit not only GHS but hospitals nationwide.

This collaborative university-industry research has also led to new opportunities between Clemson and the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Taaffe, along with two Clemson faculty in management, will consider how communication, coordination and overall patient flow can influence how operating rooms are designed in the future.

Further, Dr. Taaffe is also among the co-principal investigators on a $4 million grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The project, led by Anjali Joseph, is creating a learning lab that focuses on the design of a safer, more ergonomic hospital operating room.

The Clemson-GHS research is but one example of collaboration. Many others at Clemson and across the state show how a university and an industry partner can work together for the common good.

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Dan Simionescu and Kevin Taaffe are Clemson University associate professors. Both recently won awards that encourage collaboration between Clemson and Greenville Health System and were named for Jerry E. Dempsey and his late wife, Harriet.

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