Planting our Seeds

Industry/university research programs offer an excellent opportunity for the neurotechnology industry to develop knowledge, intellectual property, and commercial products in this new field, as we discuss in on page 1 of this issue. Although there are many potential pitfalls to collaborative agreements confronting unprepared vendors, the benefits to our society and educational system make even unprofitable investments worthwhile in the long run.

Lets consider some of the general benefits of supporting university research that accrue to the entire neurotechnology industry. First, especially during times of lean funding, industry-funded research helps keep the university strong, recruiting and retaining top faculty and research staff, equipping and maintaining state-of-the-art laboratory equipment. In a new and highly specialized industry like neurotechnology, the indirect benefit of this is even more pronounced.

For a good example of this, look at the electrode development programs at the University of Utah and the University of Michigan. Programs at these two schools have help put advanced brain stimulating and recording electrodes in the hands of thousands of researchers and clinicians, often at little or no cost. This has the effect of “seeding” the market with first-generation products that give future prescribers and developers of neural prostheses their first taste—and hopefully some good ideas—of a technology with much promise down the road.

Universities also play an important role in public information about new technologies. Schools that actively promote their undergraduate degree programs in fields like biomedical engineering are not only helping to recruit the next generation of talent for the neurotechnology industry, they are also informing the parents and relatives of these prospective students of medical benefits they may not be aware of.

Perhaps one of the most important and least appreciated benefits of industry-sponsored research for society in general is the willingness of university researchers to develop much needed products for markets that private industry has dismissed as too small. Institutions such as the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center, affiliated with Case Western Reserve University, and the Alfred Mann Institute at University of Southern California are developing products that may be the only hope for individuals unfortunate enough to be suffering from a neurological disease or disorder that represents too small of a market opportunity for private industry.

The bottom line here is that neurotechnology companies looking at ways to capitalize on collaborative research with universities would do well to look beyond their immediate bottom line and consider some of the more intangible benefits that will come down the road.

James Cavuoto
Editor and Publisher



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