In 2016, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spearheaded a report detailing the importance of convergence to the future success of the healthcare sector. The document “Convergence: The Future of Health,” was authored through the collaborative efforts of leaders from many of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the United States. It was intended to inform members of the broader scientific community outside of medicine about the potential impact convergence could have on global human health.
Convergence, the report suggests, is the latest of three revolutions in life science. In this context, convergence is characterized by the integration of ideas from professionals in the fields of engineering, computation, the physical sciences, life sciences and mathematics.
Leaders in the academic community believe cooperation could have a variety of benefits among sectors that have, for the most part, remained singularly focused on work within their own scientific disciplines. These include advanced research and ultimately the invention of new ways to treat, diagnose and eventually prevent the world’s most common and pressing ailments. In various instances, this theory is already proving to be true.
One group contributing to the growth of the Convergence in Healthcare revolution in the United States are institutions of higher learning. Listed below are three universities active in the promotion of Convergence in Healthcare in diverse, impactful ways.
One instance of Harvard’s commitment to the convergence movement is its establishment of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Wyss Institute scientists engage in research considered to be “high-risk” in an effort to discover innovative engineering solutions, therapies and commercial products to benefit human health.
Wyss Institute researchers’ current focus areas include 3D organ engineering, bioinspired robotics, biomimetic microsystems, immuno-materials, adaptive material technologies, living cellular devices, molecular robotics and synthetic biology. In spring 2018, Wyss Institute was featured in the Harvard Gazette for its development of a hydrogel adhesive to be used as an internal wound closure. The hydrogel was based on secretions found in a common slug.
Beyond Wyss Institute, Harvard’s embrace of the convergent approach to medical research can be seen in its school of engineering and applied science. Educators chose not to designate departments within the school, opting instead to create an academic environment where faculty members from all disciplines cooperate on teaching and research work. This concept is at the heart of Convergence in Healthcare, and it represents one of the best possible ways for academic institutions to promote the concept to the larger scientific community.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Another titan of American higher education demonstrating remarkable support for the Convergence in Healthcare revolution is University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2015, the university announced the establishment of the first college of medicine in the United States to be founded with a simultaneous focus on engineering and medicine.
Hard work over the next three years paid off: the Carle Illinois College of Medicine welcomes its first incoming class of 32 students in fall 2018. Students who attend Carle Illinois College of Medicine will face a curriculum infused with engineering lessons aiming to turn them in to physician-innovators. Each member of the inaugural class receives a full four-year scholarship while attending.
The program at Carle Illinois is emblematic of what the convergence revolution aims to make of the healthcare sector. With enough support, other schools may follow suit — something the MIT report notes is a key part of encouraging the growth of convergence.
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University may not have founded a medical school based on convergent principles, but the institution is taking a convergent approach in its existing teaching methods. At Carnegie Mellon, members of the science, IT, engineering and medical communities collaborate on research projects as well as provide interdisciplinary learning opportunities to students within these academic communities. The engineering school also offers PhD programs in convergent areas of study such as machine learning and computational biology.
Additionally, Carnegie Mellon partnered with University of Pittsburgh to establish the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at the BRAIN Institute. The center benefits from the fusion of University of Pittsburgh’s strength in basic and clinical neuroscience research with Carnegie Mellon’s uncontested prowess in the areas of cognitive and computational neuroscience. This convergent initiative aims to facilitate new discoveries in biological intelligence and behavior.
Carnegie Mellon’s other convergence-based projects with University of Pittsburgh include a program to train medical scientists in engineering, as well as the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance, which aims to leverage big data in the development of new products, treatments and approaches to patient health.