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Health and Medicine

Exploradio: Akron's Mecca for medical innovation
The goal of the Austen Bioinnovation Institute in Akron is to make the city as famous for medical innovation as it was for tires
This story is part of a special series.

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
The Austen Bioinnovation Institute in Akron is a partnership between Akron Children's, Akron General, and Summa Health Systems, along with The University of Akron, and The Northeast Ohio Medical University.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
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Emergency response training, medical device development, polymer biomaterials…
These are a few of the areas the Austen Bioinnovation Institute in Akron hopes to put its stamp on, as the 3-year-old think-tank settles into its new $13 million headquarters. 

In this week’s Exploradio, we explore plans to make Akron the Mecca of medical innovation.

Exploradio: Akron's Mecca for medical innovation

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Simulation training 
Charles Rice is a simulation technician and he holds a keypad that controls the child-sized mannequin on the gurney before us.  Rice’s job is to create scenarios to teach nurses, EMTs, and young doctors the challenges of real life emergency care – including a child’s repeatedly vague answers, like, "I'm dizzy," when asked where it hurts.

Rice is out of sight when trainees treat the mannequin.  He says, "If you make him say the right thing at the right moment, it can really hit home for people.”

The child dummy is one of about a dozen mannequins lying throughout the eerily quiet, simulated hospital ward at the Austen Bioinnovation Institute’s new facility in what once was a trolley terminal in downtown Akron. The 30,000 square foot simulation center allows the Institute’s partner hospitals to provide training without tying up valuable surgical suites. 

Five partners and a dream
The Austen Bioinnovation Institute is the brainchild of Akron’s three hospital systems: Akron Children’s, Akron General, and Summa Health System; along with the University of Akron and the Northeast Ohio Medical University.

The five partners came together three years ago to create a medical research facility to consolidate training, bring medical devices to market, and leverage the expertise of Akron’s polymer engineers and hospital clinicians.  Twenty million dollars from the Knight Foundation, whose former chairman Gerald Austen is the Institute’s namesake, along with $20 million from the partner hospitals laid the foundation for the Austen Bioinnovation Institute.  

Frank Douglas is the institute’s first president and CEO.  His goal is that within ten years Akron is known worldwide for medical research.

The Institute is setting up a for-profit arm to manage new companies developed through its partnerships.  It’s first spin-off launched earlier this year with a device to treat scoliosis.  Douglas is initially targeting a few specific areas to start with, including "the use of polymer and biomaterials for the treatment of orthopedic problems and wound-healing problems." 

With degrees in chemistry, engineering and medicine, Frank Douglas is a hands-on leader, "I am happy when I see ideas get translated into real products.  So having a protype lab that we have here, where we can make actual prototypes of devices and test those prototypes, for me is extremely important.”

Doctor ordered prototyping
Samantha Stucke is a senior engineer with the Institute’s medical device development team.  

Stucke says she sifted through 150 invention ideas last year, submitted by doctors looking to create better tools.

“That is what we’re here for, is for them to realize that they don’t have to battle every day.  They can come to us with their problems and we will work with them to make something better.”

The pace of work is picking up with this summer’s move into the new facility.  The 10-year plan for the Austen Bioinnovation Institute is to generate 2,100 new jobs and spin-off 40 new companies, and make Akron as famous for medical innovation as it was for tires.

The Institute will officially open its new headquarters on the partnership’s third anniversary this September.

I’m Jeff St.Clair with this week’s Exploradio.

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