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Symposium generates momentum for Engineering Innovations in Medicine

Addressing a group of researchers, educators and leaders from diverse academic disciplines and backgrounds in the Statler Ballroom on Oct. 1, Dr. Yoon Kang, senior associate dean for education and the Richard P. Cohen, M.D., Associate Professor of Medical Education at Weill Cornell Medicine, identified the common principle that had motivated them to gather together. “The future of medicine, the future of optimizing health outcomes,” she said, “is data and technology.”

More than 70 faculty from Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell Engineering and Cornell Tech assembled in Ithaca — and more joined remotely — to kick off the Cornell Engineering Innovations in Medicine (CEIM) initiative. The newly launched effort, which has been identified as a priority by university leadership, aims to meaningfully advance clinical and translational research, as well as develop new educational programs, through unconventional cross-campus partnerships.

“I really believe that we have an opportunity to create a one-of-a kind hub that would bring together Cornell Engineering and Weill Cornell Medicine,” said Emmanuel Giannelis, the inaugural CEIM director, at the opening reception of the weekend-long kickoff symposium. “And we're already talking about expanding to include other partners, here in Ithaca as well as in New York City.”

CEIM has already had some early success: Among the attendees was the initiative’s first M.D.-M.Eng. students. The M.D.-M.Eng. is a new degree program that allows medical students at Weill Cornell Medicine who have completed their third year to pursue a year-long immersion in engineering course work and design projects in Ithaca. Among the first of its kind, the program aims to prepare future M.D.s to practice at the intersection of medicine, data sciences and engineering.

Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering, noted that the plan had been to admit the first cohort of M.D.-M.Eng. students in Fall 2023, and he was encouraged to see early demand for the unique, cross-disciplinary training the degree program provides.

“This is, frankly, just the beginning of what we see as a robust milieu of educational programming that takes advantage of our incredible faculty, teaching and design studio infrastructure — as well as our Cornell-wide commitment to supporting innovation in how we educate students — to train future generations of clinicians and engineers,” Archer said.

The weekend event marked the beginning of ongoing conversations and work to develop sustainable bridges between collaborators poised to shape the future of medicine and engineering. Building on the momentum provided by the kickoff event, Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Engineering leaders are in the early stages of defining engagement mechanisms for faculty, students and research staff intended to make the opportunities at the heart of CEIM part of the culture on both campuses.

Short-term initiatives will focus on bolstering necessary supports — including staffing, housing and access to infrastructure and data — that enable exchanges by faculty and students interested in immersion experiences in laboratories or clinics in New York City or Ithaca. Longer-term efforts will, among other things, focus on jointly hiring faculty who position Cornell for leadership in the early focus areas of the initiative: data-driven medicine, immunoengineering and cancer, tissue engineering and neurotechnology.

Looking further into the future, the CEIM leadership plans to assemble core faculty and programming as part of a disciplined strategy to enhance Cornell’s reputation as a premier institution for education, research and technology innovations that improve clinical care.

“We already have a community of scholars who are innovating at the intersection of engineering and patient care, as evidenced by all of you here today, and we seek to make it even stronger,” said Augustine M. K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine and university provost for medical affairs, at the event. “This is an exciting, emerging field, and we’re proud that Cornell will be leading the way.”

Kickoff Photo Gallery

The following photos provide a glimpse of the sessions at the kickoff event devoted to exploring CEIM’s initial focus areas:

Session 1: Data-Driven Medicine

Dr. Olivier Elemento, director of the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine, discussed the use of medical avatars, which he noted “requires deep cooperation between medicine and engineering.”

Dr. Rainu Kaushal, senior associate dean of clinical research and at Weill Cornell Medicine; Deborah Estrin, associate dean for impact at Cornell Tech and a professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine; David Shmoys, Laibe/Acheson Professor of Business Management and Leadership Studies at Cornell Engineering; and Dr. Ari Melnick, the Gebroe Family Professor of Hematology/Oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine; and Dr. Elemento (not pictured) spoke on a panel moderated by Mert Sabuncu, an associate professor in Cornell Engineering based at Cornell Tech. On the panel, Estrin discussed her interest in “messy problems,” including the lack of data sets necessary to build effective algorithms that enable personalized medicine.

Session 2: Organoids and Tissue Engineering

Lawrence Bonassar, the Daljit S. and Elaine Sarkaria Professor in Biomedical Engineering, shared his work on tissue engineering, noting that commercial products involving engineered tissues are “poised to take off.”

Dr. Shahin Rafii, chief of the Division of Regenerative Medicine, director of the Ansary Stem Cell Institute and Hartman Institute for Therapeutic Organ Regeneration, and the Arthur B. Belfer Professor in Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine; Dr. Shuibing Chen, the Kilts Family Professor of Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine; Shaoyi Jiang, the Robert S. Langer ’70 Family and Friends Professor at Cornell Engineering; and Bonassar spoke on a panel moderated by Todd Evans, associate dean for research and the Peter I. Pressman, M.D. Professor in Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Collaboration makes our work much more relevant and much more impactful,” Jiang said.

Session 3: Educational Initiatives

Dr. Yoon Kang, senior associate dean for education and the Richard P. Cohen, M.D. Associate Professor of Medical Education at Weill Cornell Medicine, encouraged the audience to reverse-engineer their structures with improving patient outcomes as the starting point.

Marjolein van der Meulen, the James M. and Marsha McCormick Director of Biomedical Engineering; Newton de Faria, director of the Masters of Engineering program at the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering;  and Dr. Kang discussed a variety of promising education initiatives, including a new undergraduate immersion program for Cornell Engineering students at Weill Cornell Medicine. “If we do this right on the education side, we’re going to be very well positioned to address big, big questions,” van der Meulen said.

Session 4: Immunoengineering and Cancer

Claudia Fischbach, the Stanley Bryer 1946 Professor of Biomedical Engineering, identified “huge opportunities” to use existing Cornell facilities more effectively for biomedical research.

Niroshana Anandasabapathy, associate professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine, shared her research on T cells.

Dr. Silvia Formenti, chair of radiation oncology and the Sandra and Edward Meyer Professor of Cancer Research; Matt Paszek, associate professor at Cornell Engineering; Anandasabapathy, Fischbach, and Dr. Melnick spoke on a panel about immunoengineering. Paszek encouraged the room to consider issues of equity in personalized medicine, saying, “If only the wealthiest people in the wealthiest nations can afford these technologies, we’re leaving a lot on the table.”

Session 5: Neurotech

Nozomi Nishimura, associate professor at Cornell Engineering, noted that “it’s a really exciting time to be at the interface of engineering and neuroscience.”

Dr. Conor Liston, associate professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, addressed the audience remotely.

Chris Schaffer, professor at Cornell Engineering; Chris Xu, IBM Professor of Engineering and Director of the School of Applied and Engineering Physics; and Dr. Emre Aksay, associate professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine explored the benefits that could emerge from collaborations between Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Engineering in neurotech.

There was also plenty of time for casual conversation among the attendees, including Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering.

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