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MEDx connects School of Medicine and Pratt to encourage research collaboration

From preventing seizures to analyzing human feces, Duke’s MEDx program is connecting biomedical researchers and doctors to engineers to meet technological needs in medicine.

MEDx, a collaboration between the School of Medicine and Pratt School of Engineering, aims to enhance ties between the two schools. In order to do so, the initiative provides funding and other support to allow researchers to “work symbiotically on new solutions to complex clinical problems,” according to the MEDx website.

“Oftentimes there is a School of Medicine faculty member who has identified an unmet need in their area, and the engineering team that they collaborate with is providing solutions to address that medical need,” said MEDx Director Geoffrey Ginsburg, professor of medicine and of pathology.

Two researchers, one from each of the two schools, must pair up to apply for grants from the program. The grants vary based on the nature of the project: some fund projects within unspecific areas of medicine while others—for example, grants through the Kaganov Research Initiative in Pulmonary Medicine—pertain to specific types of diseases, such as pulmonary diseases in the case of the Kaganov Initiative. 

MEDx also funds colloquiums, which often consist of dinners and gatherings of faculty to spark and promote projects.

Ginsburg leads a project that is developing a “smart toilet,” which will be able analyze biological substances in human waste to monitor health and detect disease. In doing so, the technology will remove the need to physically handle feces. 

Another MEDx project, led by Gregory Cogan, assistant professor in neurosurgery in the School of Medicine, and Jonathan Viventi, assistant professor in the department of biomedical engineering, is developing dense electrode arrays to predict and prevent seizures in epileptic patients.

When medications fail to treat epilepsy in patients, the next step is often surgery. However, as current monitoring technology gives only a rough map of the brain, surgery itself is not perfect in eliminating seizures. 

In addition to providing $150,000 in funding for the project, MEDx assisted Cogan and Viventi with patent filing and intellectual property licensing, Cogan said.

Undergraduate students can get involved, too—the program hosts a “MEDx Cafe” on biweekly Wednesdays to connect undergraduates and students with Medx leadership in an informal setting. Pratt students can also get involved through the Design Health program, in which undergraduates work in teams to design solutions to medical problems.

Ken Chiang, a Ph.D. student in the Viventi Lab who worked with Cogan and Viventi, explained that he appreciates the practical nature of the work, saying that he is happy that his research is “actually going to be able to be applied to real life situations.”

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