MCHRI supports health innovation opportunities in maternal and child health through Biodesign Faculty Fellowships

MCHRI’s partnership with the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign offers advanced training and mentoring in health technology innovation for faculty to address critical maternal and child healthcare needs and deliver valuable innovations to patients. (Photo courtesy of Biodesign)

July 1, 2020

By Roxanna Van Norman

The strategic partnership between the Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI) and Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign enables faculty with expertise in maternal and child health to participate in the Biodesign Faculty Fellowship, a program designed to provide advanced training and mentoring in health technology innovation.

“We are proud to partner with Stanford Biodesign and leverage the power of the Biodesign Faculty Fellowship to solve challenges in maternal and child health through innovative diagnostics and medical devices,” says Mary Leonard, MD, MSCE, Director of MCHRI and Professor and Chair of Pediatrics.

Since 2017, MCHRI has annually sponsored up to six Biodesign Faculty Fellows. This fellowship is one of the educational training available through MCHRI’s Drug and Device Development Service, a central resource for Stanford investigators to navigate through the complex the process of developing drugs and medical devices from pre-clinical research to clinical trials and beyond.

Over eight months, Faculty Fellows learn the Biodesign innovation process – a rigorous approach for identifying innovation opportunities within or outside their departments, inventing cost-effective solutions, and implementing those inventions to improve patient care. Participants first focus on the innovation process through hands-on, project-based activities to identify and characterize unmet clinical needs. Faculty Fellows then engage in a period of design and development of medical devices. Finally, they create a potential invention and generate a plan for execution.

Biodesign projects funded by MCHRI have included developing a widely accessible weight control program to help reduce childhood obesity, improving tools for diagnosing ear infections in pediatric patients, and identifying ways to decrease pressure-related injuries in critical care settings. To date, MCHRI has supported 16 Biodesign Faculty Fellows through this partnership.

Since 2017, MCHRI has sponsored up to six Biodesign Faculty Fellows whose projects focused in maternal and child health.

An innovation training program for faculty 

Paul Yock, MD, Professor of Medicine and of Bioengineering and Director of the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign, founded Biodesign in 2001 to help aspiring innovators succeed in designing and developing medical devices to improve healthcare worldwide. The Biodesign Faculty Fellows program welcomes faculty at all career stages from the Schools of Medicine and Engineering who have a passion for biomedical device development and advancing health care.

“Technology innovation today requires a focus more than ever on value,” says Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine Ryan Van Wert, MD, who is the Associate Director of the program. “What is the health technology value to the patient, to the healthcare provider, other stakeholders involved? This is a highly complex ecosystem to innovate in, and yet the need is as great as ever.”

Faculty Fellows receive one-on-one mentoring in all aspects of technology innovation. Stanford faculty and outside experts with technical translation experience provide instruction in design thinking, prototyping, intellectual property, regulatory, reimbursement, and business models. They also work with coaches with deep engineering expertise to help them build and test the technical feasibility of their ideas.

From October until June, they spend an average of eight to ten hours per week on program activities, including reading and video assignments, project work, and small group mentoring sessions. Through the experience, Faculty Fellows gain an understanding of technology translation challenges and opportunities and develop a robust network of health technology contacts within and outside of the university.

A strategic partnership in maternal and child health health technology innovation

With support from MCHRI, faculty specializing in maternal and child health and participating in the fellowship focus their efforts on solving critical health challenges facing pregnant women and children. However, when it comes to developing new medical devices, innovators face strict requirements of implementation within these vulnerable populations. There is also a lack of commercial incentives and market forces to drive maternal and pediatric medical device development.

“Innovation in maternal and child health is increasing. But working in this space is more complicated because of the smaller, more targeted markets and complex ethics of conducting research on infants and children,” says Dr. Yock. “A program like the Biodesign Faculty Fellowship can help innovators understand and navigate the unique challenges of addressing the unmet needs of mothers and children. Our goal is to provide practical advice, hands-on coaching, and real-world connections that faculty can leverage to design, develop, and test new solutions and then bring them into practice.”

Through Biodesign’s structured innovation process, the program provides the tools and resources for Faculty Fellows to drive innovation activities that can impact patient care at a scalable level.

“There are opportunities in this area [of maternal and child health] to drive innovation,” says Dr. Van Wert. “The technology innovation process through the Biodesign center helps to uncover the magnitude of unmet need which ultimately drives powerful innovation.”

To date, Biodesign fellows have launched 50 successful startup companies based on projects initiated during their training experience and whose technologies have now reached over three million patients, with 10 focused on maternal and child health.

The following is a list of current and past MCHRI Biodesign Faculty Fellows:

2019-20 Fellows

2018-19 Fellows

2017-18 Fellows

To read highlights of former MCHRI Biodesign Faculty Fellows, click on the capsules below.

Thomas Robinson, MD, MPH
Professor of Pediatrics and of Medicine

Tulio Valdez, MD, MSc
Associate Professor of Pediatric Otolaryngology

Anita Honkanen, MD
Clinical Professor of Pediatric Anesthesiology 

Roxanna Van Norman is the marketing manager for the Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute.