A new academic alliance at the Virginia Tech Carilion Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke is aimed at teaching students how to turn great ideas into real-world solutions and products.

Students from the translational biology, medicine, and health (TBMH) graduate program’s gateway class will partner with students from the College of Engineering and the Pamplin College of Business this fall in a new translation and commercialization module.

The gateway class is divided into six modules where students intensively study exemplar cases in areas that include neuroscience, cancer, metabolic-cardiovascular science, infectious disease-immunology, and health implementation science.

Each module takes contemporary issues of biomedical and health sciences research covering the molecular biology, physiology, behavior, commercialization, and health-care delivery aspects and explores them in detail. 

For four years since its inception, the gateway class has been led by Michael Friedlander, the vice president for health sciences and technology and founding co-director of the TBMH program. It was designed as the introductory foundational course of the program by Friedlander; Audra Van Wart, who is also a founding co-director of the TBMH program and the assistant vice president for health sciences education at Virginia Tech; along with the entire TBMH steering committee.

“This class has been a linchpin of the TBMH program. By combining the backgrounds and perspectives of entering students with the broad range of expertise of faculty from multiple disciplines, the course has always gone beyond boundaries, focusing on translation from lab bench discovery to new diagnostics, treatments, and cures, as well as the implementation of those practices,” said Friedlander, who is also the founding executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTCRI). “This new module in the class will expand opportunities for the students to learn more about the practical aspects of commercializing such discoveries.” 

“In this year’s gateway class, the new module on commercialization will teach students to work across disciplines to learn the intricacies of commercializing biomedical research and clinical therapies,” said Van Wart, who is also the director of education and training at VTCRI.

Rob Gourdie, Ph.D. leads a discussion with graduate students on developing intellectual properties as part of a "shark tank' style competition to be conducted later this month. (David Hungate for VTCRI)

Shark Tank Competition 2017
Led by Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute professor Rob Gourdie, a new academic alliance at the Virginia Tech Carilion Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke is aimed at teaching students how to turn great ideas into real-world solutions and products.

The idea is to introduce a diverse range of students to the biotech translation process — from the development of intellectual property to commercialization of discoveries, according to Rob Gourdie, a professor at the VTCRI, who is overseeing the commercialization module with Mark Van Dyke, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics in the College of Engineering; and Derick Maggard, executive director of the APEX Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Pamplin College of Business.

“People from science and business backgrounds don’t often come together as students during college,” said Gourdie, who is also is the Commonwealth Eminent Scholar of Regenerative Medicine and professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics in the College of Engineering. “They don’t always speak the same language and have different professional aspirations. I thought it would be cool to bring in students from the school of business, mix them with TBMH students and engineering students, and put them in a collaborative situation that they might face in the real world of work.”

Students will learn about intellectual property, regulatory affairs, clinical trials, entrepreneurship and company startup, and investment, with many segments taught by outside experts, according to Van Dyke, who runs the Nanostructured Biopolymer Engineering Lab at the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science.

On Nov. 17, students will pitch actual ideas collected from Intellectual Property offices at Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University, and the University of Virginia. More than $5,000 has been collected so far to be awarded to the top pitches.

“This is a fantastic collaboration that shows the energy and support of cross-campus partnerships and interdisciplinary learning,” Maggard said. “When students are in this kind of atmosphere, pushing the boundary of disciplines, it unleashes their creativity. It is always exciting to see what they accomplish when they present their ideas in a ‘Shark Tank’ environment.”

The pitches will be ranked by a panel of judges, including Gautam Ghatnekar, a co-founder with Gourdie of the biotech company FirstString Research; Nanci Hardwick, chief executive officer of Aeroprobe; James Ramey, manager of the VTC Innovation Fund; Victor Ianello, chief executive officer of Radiant Physics; and Mary Miller, director of the Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program, a business accelerator program for the Roanoke and Blacksburg area.

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