Isabelle Chumfong and Claire Graves Tackle Biodesign Challenges through Innovation Pathway
From developing sensors to detect pressure ulcers to conducting pre-clinical studies for novel magnetic therapies, Isabelle Chumfong, MEng, MD, and Claire Graves, MD took the unconventional route during their research years, electing to pursue cutting-edge research through the Innovation Pathway, one of five such pathways open to surgery and visiting residents during their research years.
The purpose of the resident research program is to encourage trainees to hone their skills as physician-scientists by asking critical questions and gaining the expertise needed to pursue answers to them. UCSF offers five research pathways for surgical residents: basic biomedical and translational research, clinical discovery and health services research, global surgery and public health, surgical education, and surgical innovation. While the Basic Biomedical & Translational Research pathway remains popular, many residents are excited by the emerging fields of medical technology and biodesign and are choosing less traditional tracks such as the Innovation Pathway, which provides rigorous hands-on experience developing and translating novel medical devices and technologies for unmet clinical needs.
The Surgical Innovations Program was recently awarded a NIH-R25 training grant that is designed to equip residents with an in-depth understanding of the technical, regulatory, and business realities involved in bringing new medical technologies to the market while providing experiential learning in device design, animal model development, clinical trials, and startup formation.
Dr. Chumfong was grateful for this period, where she could “spend time looking creatively at problems [she’s] saw on the ward or in the operating room", and "attempt to solve those problems in a way that we haven’t thought about yet”, under the guidance of Dr. Hanmin Lee.
Initially, Dr. Chumfong participated in an externship through design and innovation firm IDEO where she was introduced to the concept of design thinking, principles of which she incorporated into her research project, “SmartDerm”, a wearable sensor that measures pressure levels on the skin with the goal of preventing decubitus ulcers. Although having resumed her clinical training, Dr. Chumfong will continue her work on SmartDerm—perhaps a preview of her future career in pediatric surgery and device innovation.
Innovations Pathway research resident Isabelle Chumfong (left) discusses device innovation with QB3 Director Regis Kelly (second from left) and Surgical Innovations staff engineers Romain Roux (second from right) and Sachin Rangarajan (right). Photo courtesy of UCSF Photo Library
Drawn to Dr. Michael Harrison’s enviable track record of innovation in fetal surgery and pediatric medical devices, Dr. Claire Graves, a resident at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, journeyed to UCSF for her two years as a visiting resident research fellow. She has been involved with a number of projects including magnetic therapies for pectus excavatum, obstructive sleep apnea, bowel obstruction, and the use of cryoanalgesia for pain control during the Nuss procedure. The mentorship component of the Innovation Pathway allowed her to observe the mindset of a true pioneer in medicine, to which she said:
Working with Dr. Harrison has taught me to always question the status quo and to not give up on making our therapies better for patients. His optimism and ability to think outside the box make him an exceptional innovator and mentor.” She also notes the impact this experience will have on her career as a physician-scientist, as she has “learned to think about surgery, and medicine in general, differently.
Surgery research resident Claire Graves (left) works on implanting a prototype device in a cadaver at the Surgical Skills Lab, Apr. 13, 2017. Mentor Michael Harrison (right) provides guidance during and feedback to Dr. Graves and the engineering team. Photo by Stacy Kim
For more information on the Innovation Pathway, please visit the Surgical Innovations website.