By Erinn Aspinall
You can now add “assist in bringing medical devices to market” to the job descriptions of librarians at the University of Minnesota.
This spring, Pharmacy Librarian Franklin Sayre was busy researching the clinical aspects of a next-generation hearing device being developed by Biomedical Engineering Professor, Hubert Lim, Ph.D. Sayre was joined by Business Librarians Caroline Lilyard and Mary Schoenborn, who were combing through business resources to find information on the market landscape for this new device.
Their findings were shared with Lim as part of his participation in the University’s MN-REACH program, which supports researchers as they work to make their innovations available in the marketplace.
Through this work, librarians Lilyard, Sayre, and Schoenborn have become integral members of research teams — expanding the role of 21st century librarians and helping University of Minnesota faculty transform their discoveries into products that improve the health of people around the world.
MN-REACH is the University’s NIH-funded Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub, a distinction held by only three sites across the country.
This 3-year, $3 million grant, with an additional $3 million match from the University, helps faculty develop their product so they can bring their breakthrough research to market where it can be used to improve health outcomes and quality of care.
MN-REACH achieves this goal by gathering together the right people from across campus with the skills, expertise, and know-how in all aspects of innovation that support researchers in this process.
“It’s the scientist’s job to know the research,” said Sayre, M.L.I.S. “It’s the job of MN-REACH to help researchers like Lim develop a business case so their innovations can reach a wider audience and have a greater impact.”
For Lim this means that his device – which helps individuals who are hearing-impaired or experience severe tinnitus (ringing of the ears) – will be made available to health providers so it can be used to help restore hearing and improve the quality of life for individuals suffering with hearing disorders.
Libraries offer new dimension to research innovation
Lilyard, Sayre, and Schoenborn represent one part of what MN-REACH Project Manager Amy Moore, Ph.D., calls the “trifecta,” which includes representatives from MN-REACH, the Carlson School of Business, and the University Libraries.
“The involvement of the Libraries has opened an entirely new avenue for research faculty to see their projects in a new dimension, other than a narrowly scientific one,” said Professor Chuck Muscoplat, Ph.D., and Co-Principal Investigator for MN-REACH. “Many faculty always imagine their project being successful in a commercial sense; yet until they partner with the librarians they never realized they needed an entry into the business world.”
Lim confirms Muscoplat’s observation. He said that as a scientist doing translational research, he felt that he reasonably understood the basics of commercialization, including intellectual property, regulatory requirements, and needs assessment.
Through the MN-REACH workshops, he realized he had not sufficiently thought about many key parts of the commercialization process, such as reimbursement, market size and analysis, and product differentiation.
“I had no idea where to start to find this type of information and which sources are credible,” Lim said.
Importance of information for innovation
Through MN-REACH, Lilyard, Sayre and Schoenborn work with researchers whose work is destined to improve the lives of individuals who suffer heart attacks, have chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer, or are diagnosed with mental health conditions. Their innovations will even help bring new life into the world as they support advances in fetal health care.
The information needed to support such a wide range of topics is not found in one database, nor is it in one format. Finding relevant information requires both the specialized research skills and the discipline-specific subject expertise of these librarians.
“I was surprised and relieved to find out that the University of Minnesota Libraries has experts and resources to help with gathering this type of information,” Lim said.
Lilyard, Sayre and Schoenborn work closely with Lim and other MN-REACH researchers throughout the MN-REACH cycle, sharing information as it becomes available and meeting regularly and as needed.
“We have continuous involvement during the MN-REACH process,” added Lilyard, M.P.A., M.L.I.S. “We attend intake meetings and ‘bootcamp’ sessions to better understand the information needs that are relevant to each researcher.”
“They connected me with comprehensive reports summarizing the global market trends, commercialization strategies, device competitors, and market revenue related to my proposed medical product,” Lim said, adding that the Libraries’ work helped shape his MN-REACH proposal and the long-term commercialization plan for his proposed device. “They also provided online links and resources for customer discovery and potential commercial partners.”
As the projects take shape, the librarians are available to respond to the researchers’ emerging information needs by providing customized information searches of market reports, licensed databases, and other publically available resources.
The information gathered through these custom searches helps researchers see a broader picture of what is required in order to move their research from their labs and into production.
The Libraries involvement in the MN-REACH project has had a positive impact as researchers like Lim are seeing their work become reality, and as MN-REACH is advancing its goal of bringing innovations to the marketplace.
It has also been a rewarding experience for Lilyard, Sayre, and Schoenborn on a professional and personal level.
Their work has opened up new opportunities to share business and clinical research insight outside of these disciplines. It has also positioned the Libraries to think creatively about building new services to meet changing campus information needs.
“It has been tremendously interesting and encouraging to become aware of innovations University of Minnesota faculty are developing to further human health and well being,” Lilyard said.
Schoenborn, M.P.A., echoes these sentiments, “Interdisciplinary research has been around for some time, but this program creates opportunities that push the boundaries on how and why we work together.“
Through their involvement in MN-REACH, Lilyard, Sayre, and Schoenborn are helping accelerate innovations that will someday improve health care, advance medicine, and save lives.