Alba Tull Center for Neuro Imaging and Therapeutics

Impactful healthcare innovation results from an idea that progresses through the stages of clinical need identification, solution conception, prototyping, and commercialization. Additional progression through patent filing, FDA submission and approval, and partnering with industry may be necessary.  

A center focused on fostering healthcare innovation provides the means to achieve this progression, either in the form of funding, informational resources, or expertise in a certain field, such as law or business, to assist with intellectual property disclosure or business development. Prior to reaching this stage, however, there is prerequisite prototyping, preliminary proof-of-concept work, validation of initial work, and team building. 

The Alba Tull Center for Neuro Imaging and Therapeutics provides unmet needs in certain key areas not addressed in the current innovation ecosystem at Pitt. The center will occupy a unique niche that combines all the following characteristics:  

  1. A multidisciplinary community with an integrated physical and digital space. This is the key aspect of the AT Center, as it will serve as the initial starting point for innovators to gather. This can be a clinician with an unmet clinical need who otherwise does not have the time or expertise to prototype a solution. This can also be health science students who have strong interests in medical innovation and wish to get more involved but are unsure where to start or are overwhelmed by the current landscape of innovation at Pitt. This can be a law student with an interest in medical patenting but without formal access to such learning in their school, even though their expertise would be desperately needed by those in the health sciences who wish to start a company and patent their product. In addition, the creation of an online community and robust digital infrastructure, discussed in more detail below, is paramount to the success of this center in the modern era. 
  2. An inter-institutional community. Pittsburgh has a rich community with over nine different colleges in the area, yet there are very few ways to formally link students and faculty. Especially with CMU as our closest and most resource-rich neighbor, current connections exist informally and are disjointed. As will be discussed below, a symbiotic relationship specifically in the realm of medical innovation will be established, serving as a catalyst for extending the reach of the AT Center to the entire Pittsburgh area.  
  3. A focus on extended reality and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML). These so-called “exponential technologies” are widely utilized in the modern tech industry and business, while medicine has lagged in applying these technologies. Reasons for this include a culture reticent to adopt new technology, especially if current methods are acceptably accomplishing the job; a need to robustly validate emerging technology that can impact human lives; and overall lack of knowledge about new technological trends. This center will support technological development by taking advantage of our expertise in extended reality and AI/ML applications in medicine. The AT Center will help make these technologies more accessible to everyone. 
  4. A robust digital infrastructure that has embedded discussion feeds, project repository, and users. In the modern age and with increased remote work, this has become more crucial than ever. Creation of an online community allows discussion to happen anywhere and with anyone, minimizing barriers to entry for those with interest in medical innovation but would otherwise have no access to this community. A project repository serves as a database of all available and ongoing projects, allowing any user to introduce new ideas or explore existing projects while other users can join ongoing projects based on their skillset or interests. This is the heart of the AT Center’s operations, serving as a “digital meeting space” for all members and acting as a platform to recruit new innovators. 
  5. An ability to rapidly prototype, demo, and test a clinical solution. Many makerspaces, machine shops, or labs exist throughout the Pitt community. Our space exists as an initial starting point that offers basic prototyping capabilities for those innovators/innovation teams who are starting. We can then redirect those members who require more extensive prototyping capabilities to our partnered innovation spaces across campus, or to the larger innovation institutes around Pitt. In the case of the latter, we will assist with grant applications for funding. This space is meant to invite in anyone with an innovative solution to a clinical problem, no matter where that idea is on its path to implementation and nurture its growth.  
  6. Accessibility due to its physical proximity to clinicians and members of the health sciences community. At the core of all medical innovation, need, effectiveness, and minimal disruption in clinical flow (at least in the adoption stage) drive the outcome and success of an idea. Ideas tend to originate in the clinic and validation tends to occur in the clinic. Therefore, having proximity to both clinicians and their clinics is integral for success and growth. This will increase the AT Center’s chances of capturing clinicians with an innovative idea since the space is physically easy to visit and is digitally accessible. This should reduce risk of ‘idea launch failure’, which may in turn increase innovation output from the health science that we can direct the surrounding innovation community. 
  7. Biomedical focus. Many makerspaces and innovation centers exist on campus, but this will be the first all encompassing, “one-stop-shop” for all biomedical specific innovation and entrepreneurial activities on campus. This center serves to integrate established innovation institutes by creating a coherent, immersive, collaborative medical innovation community.