Sunday, October 28, 2007

Clinical Innovation - A Story of Innovation from My Home Town

While roaming through the media countryside, gunning for a bird of thought to flash by for my blog, I came across a full-page ad in the October 25 USA Today. It bore the headline “Recognizing Talent Today Inspires the Innovation of Tomorrow. Congratulations to the 2007-2009 Siemens Competitions in Math, Science, and Technology.” The ad announced regional finalists and semifinalists of Siemens national innovation and entrepreneurial competition.

I noticed five regional finalists hailed from Oak Ridge High School, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, my alma mater. It was there I became a Bausch and Lomb national science search finalist. That honor lit the spark of innovation. It persists to this day in the form of this blog on medical innovation.

Last year a team of Oak Ridge High School seniors took Siemens $100,000 grand prize in the nation's science competition for research-minded high school students. That team’s project involved creating energy from biofuels. This year the high school and their inspirational teacher Benita Albert will field two teams again vying for Siemens top prize.

Oak Ridge is one of three high schools in the country to have two squads in regional finals in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology. They'll compete for the nationals on Nov. 2, when they’ll present their studies to experts gathered at Georgia Tech.

The five Oak Ridge senior work with scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Students Byron Jaeger and Minghui Ren have worked with John Drake, the program manager for the lab's computational earth sciences group. They've studied climate-related computational and climate modeling. They seek to understand global warming by arriving at a more precise global average temperature.

Seniors Woody Austin, John Banks and Xinzhu Wang have been doing research with Vincent Meunier with the lab's Computational Chemical Sciences Group. The team's nanotechnology project can potentially be used in detecting chemical warfare agents. The research aims to develop software for creating nanosensors, tiny electronic devices used in solar cells and chemotherapy, among other applications.
If either Oak Ridge team wins the regional, it will advance to the national competition held Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in New York City.

The Oak Ridge High School team’s work reminds me America is an entrepreneurial bottom up society. Innovation thrives on big ideas like climate change, biofuels, chemical warfare, and health reform. This innovation requires support, collaboration, incubator environments, and prizes and recognition for work well.

This holds true in spades for health care, where innovations are badly needed to reform a $2 trillion system with runaway costs, which by the way, dwarf Iraq War costs by a factor of about 10. Many health care innovations, I believe, will start with medical students, medical residents, and doctors in the trenches. I have argued this point in my blogs and in my book Innovation-Driven Health Care, and I will stress it again in a talk I’m giving at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in two weeks.

For health care innovation to succeed, the U.S. needs supportive environments, business and scientific advisors, and capital, but more than anything else, we need inspirational mentors and supporters and the belief that innovation sets us apart as an achieving nation with solutions to big problems.

Maybe our medical schools will take a cue from Oak Ridge High School and create teams of doctors, scientists, and biomedical engineers that address innovations to solve the problems that beset our health care system.


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