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Columbia Business Monthly

Clemson and the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi hope their partnership will lead to biomedical innovations

Jul 08, 2019 10:46AM
By David Dykes

Clemson University researchers and their counterparts at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi some 7,860 miles away have formed a partnership they hope will lead to innovations in the global health industry and biomedical startups—and the lucrative jobs that come with them. The partnership’s name: the Clemson-Indian Institute of Technology Joint Center for Innovative Medical Devices and Sensors.

Some of the first projects will focus on solutions for diabetes and other chronic health issues common to both countries. Another is on salvia-based sensors that can detect cancer markers in initial screenings. The long-term vision includes exchanges of faculty members, students, and postdoctoral researchers, and eventually establishing joint courses.

Anand Gramopadhye, who is from Mumbai and now dean of Clemson’s College of Engineering, Computing, and Applied Sciences, says the joint center will enable transformative research and deepen the talent pool for the healthcare industry.

“It could be diabetes or cardiovascular (issues) but it could also mean a simple thing as a clean, easily mobile cart in the hospital,” he said in an interview. “How do you design the next generation of medical carts? What should it look like? And then solutions that may work in American settings—can they work in other settings also, in developing countries?” 

A research collaboration with Clemson to develop cutting-edge medical technology would be beneficial for India, as it imports the majority of its medical devices and technologies, according to Sandeep K. Jha, an assistant professor in the Centre for Biomedical Engineering at IIT Delhi.

An advantage to cross-border research is that new technology will be designed to meet regulatory requirements in multiple countries, smoothing the transition to markets around the globe, says Delphine Dean, the Gregg-Graniteville associate professor of bioengineering at Clemson.

Dean’s lab leads a wide range of studies focused on understanding the mechanics and interactions of biological systems. Her expertise is in nano- to micro-scale characterization of biological tissues, including experimental techniques such as atomic force microscopy and mathematical modeling. 

She currently mentors 12 undergraduate creative inquiry research and design teams. These student teams work on a variety of projects including investigating the use of stem cells to help with dental tissue regeneration, developing mathematical models to predict cell growth and migration, exploring the use of robotics to solve biomedical problems, predicting rotator cuff injury from ultrasound, and creating medical technology for the developing world.

In 2014, she led a team of Clemson students to Tanzania to research the need for new medical devices, in addition to repairing broken equipment in hospitals and clinics. The team crafted a number of medical products, ranging from a neonatal heating device for hospitals to an affordable glucose monitor for villages.

Eight Clemson faculty members and an equal number from IIT have shared their expertise in a video conference colloquium, and this summer IIT faculty plan to come to Clemson for a symposium. 

Two Clemson undergrad bioengineering majors, sophomores Samantha Kodikara of Charlotte and Emily Willis of Clemson, are scheduled this summer to do pilot research at IIT Delhi. Dean hopes Kodikara and Willis will dive into their research abroad, but also take time to enjoy the cultural exchange. 

For Clemson, the bottom line is that the IIT partnership is designed to create a greater connection between academia and industry, as well as contribute to a healthier global society. 

It will take time.

“You can’t rush making new collaborations and you certainly can’t rush research,” says Dean. “I think we’re actually progressing quite well.”

For years, students and faculty members have shuttled between Clemson and India for a flurry of exchange programs, many centering on the auto industry and the PSG College of Technology in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Activity surged about three years ago after Tata Trusts agreed to pay for five PSG students to work toward master’s degrees at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research, or CU-ICAR. 

The Tata Fellows program has been among Clemson’s connections to Ratan Tata, an Indian industrialist, investor, and philanthropist who in 2015 received an honorary doctorate in automotive engineering from the university. 

In all, there have been 14 Tata Fellows, including five first-year students pursuing a master of science in automotive engineering and five second-year students working toward the same degree. Four have graduated.

While electric vehicles have represented much of the focus, collaborations also have included work on developing sustainable materials, decreasing vehicle weight, and autonomous vehicles.