MD Anderson, Rice University and NSBRI Collaborate to create New Devices for Telemedicine

I was invited to help with this project about a year ago. Dr. Robert Satcher a surgeon at MD Anderson and former astronaut spearheaded the project along with Jan Odegard of Rice University and Sharon Pepper of MD Anderson. After a year this project has come together.

This is an opportunity for the creation of new devices to deliver healthcare and provide healthcare for populations that are currently underserved.

Houston, we have an opportunity.

The electronic Health Research Institute (eHRI) was created by formal agreement on April 11, 2013 as a research collaborative between the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology at Rice University, and the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
The aim of the eHRI is to be a catalyst for the advancement, integration, translation and acceleration of research and technology to support and enable distance delivery of healthcare, with an emphasis on cancer care.
The eHRI will achieve this by working closely with researchers across the Texas Medical Center (TMC) building technology communities and developing an innovation pipeline while forging partnerships with the local healthcare entrepreneurial community.


To be a world leader focused on advancement, integration and translation of technology research to distance delivery of healthcare services.


To bring researchers together from Medicine, Information Technology, and Industry, to innovate and commercialize devices, strategies, and applications for distance delivery of healthcare, with a focus on cancer care. 

Why eHealth?

The use of information and communication technology to support delivery of digital healthcare services at a distance, while not a new concept, is rapidly coming of age. The number one cause of death worldwide has become cancer, which recently surpassed cardiovascular and infectious diseases.  The specialized care that is required for cancer treatment is concentrated in developed countries.  Fortunately, technology provides a mechanism for both disseminating care to developing countries, and optimizing care delivery in developed countries.  However, the use of information and communication technology in cancer care is currently limited and novel as a concept.  The development and innovation needed to create devices and strategies for tele-cancer care has been hampered by the fact that it requires bringing together expertise from disciplines that are normally not collaborators.  The eHealth Research Institute will provide this mechanism, by funding collaborations between Cancer researchers, Information Technology faculty, and Industrial partners. 
The broad concept of healthcare at a distance has tremendous potential from a clinical perspective. The opportunities range from the simple use of information and communication technology to monitor patients’ daily regimen and compliance with treatment to a developed platform that can deliver the full spectrum of healthcare services in the home, in the clinic, and in the hospital, thereby eliminating patient travel to a distant or remote facility or transporting experts to the patient’s location.
The eHealth Research Institute, using information and communication technology as the enabler, will draw interested partners together to form a new innovation hub focused on technology integration and technology transfer targeting creation of new ventures. From an industry perspective, the potential for product innovation, development and adoption is tremendous.  eHealth holds the key to successfully moving to a patient centric healthcare solution.

Why Houston?

The proposed research institution will help bring together physicians, engineering and science researchers, and industry innovators in a unique alliance that has no equal in the U.S.  Houston and the Texas Medical Center are uniquely positioned to be the home of the eHealth Research Institute being pioneered at the intersection of Houston’s greatest strengths and known expertise: medicine, information technology, space and energy. The eHRI will be housed in the heart of Texas Medical Center, the largest medical complex in the world that is comprised of world renowned and highly regarded medical and research institutions.  The principle partners eHRI include world leaders in their respective fields:  MD Anderson Cancer Center, Rice University, and the Center for Space Medicine.  Other affiliates include the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, The University of Houston, and Baylor College of Medicine. 
Why Now?
The time is ripe for leveraging the strengths in Houston and of the Texas Medical Center to take advantage of what has been identified as unrealized potential. The newly formed multi-dimensional partnerships will not only be beneficial to their institutional members, to the health care sector and the individuals they serve, but also will provide a new business base to the region that will draw attention and greater collaboration from interested leaders in related fields from all over the world.

Projects Areas

·      Continuum of patient care and physician support
·      Patient, public, and physician education
·      Physician training, care, coordination
·      Remote location communication
·      Assistance with prototyping, testing, diagnosis, monitoring, imaging analysis, follow-up care, surgical mentoring
·      Teleconferencing
·      Agnostic, scalable, plug and play device for remote telehealth data-streaming in resource depleted areas
·      Devices for continuous, self-powered monitoring of patient that can be remotely accessed
·      Remote cervical cancer test, analysis and diagnosis

Immediate projects to be developed

Cervical cancer screening: The goal of this project (Dr. Kathleen Schmeler) is to devise remote monitoring devices for cervical cancer screening that are automated, low cost, and deployable to remote locations. These devices should be interfaced with mobile technology, such as a cell phone, so that the information is transmittable from anywhere there is a cellular network.

Melanoma screening: The goal of this project is to develop remote monitoring devices for melanoma screening. These devices will interface with mobile phones to capture and transmit skin photographs that can be analyzed in order to diagnose melanoma in its earliest stages, when it can be treated most successfully. Principle investigators for the project are at Rice University (Prof. Ashu Sabharwal) and MD Anderson (Prof. Jeff Gershenwald).

Digital Pathology: The Digital Pathology project seeks to devise and optimize a strategy for providing pathology expertise to statewide, national, and international clients. The goal is to provide a method for digitizing slides that is affordable and automated, and provides the necessary quality for accurate diagnosis. Several systems that have been previously considered were not scalable for national and international use. Another challenge is to automate the quality assurance. The future direction of the project is to automate the interpretation and diagnosis of digital slides, using a smart computer (such as Watson from IBM).

Microrobotics: Robotic surgery as currently practiced has a been applied at macroscopic scales. The use of robotics has expanded to various subspecialties including urology, head and neck surgery, plastic surgery, neurosurgery, general surgery, and gynecology. Future directions, for which this project is focus, is in miniaturizing the robotics so that it can be applied to finer surgical techniques such as vascular and nerve repair. The goal of this project is to develop microrobotic systems for microsurgical tasks. Dr. Selber has been working with industrial partners to develop potential applications.

Robotic and telementoring applications: Chris Holsinger of Head and Neck Surgery has been using robotic and telementoring applications to extend expertise to underserved locations. The goal of this project is to optimize the usage to telementoring and telerobotic surgery for Head and Neck applications. For telementoring, he hopes to identify the optimal system that allows for comprehensive interaction between surgeons, and provides for an accurate understanding of the 3 dimensional structure and dynamics of the surgical field and site. For telerobotic surgery, the goal is to develop systems for specific application in Head and Neck cases.

Computer assisted surgery in orthopaedic oncology: Dr. Satcher is collaborating with Dr. Justin Bird for Orthopaedic Surgery, and Dr. Skoracki from Plastic Surgery, to develop a computer assisted robotic system for tumor resection and bone reconstruction. Adding robotics will potentially improve accuracy and precision in resecting tumors from hard tissues, such as bone. Additional potential benefits are with reconstructions, which often require shaping allograft bone accurately to interface with native bone. We will work with industrial partners to prototype potential systems for these applications.

Future Plans

·      Identify strategic partners and advisors
·      Identify faculty members and begin research collaboration
·      Develop organizational structure
·      Fundraising
The time is ripe for leveraging the strengths of the highly developed ecosystem of the Texas Medical Center to take advantage of unrealized potential that will not only be beneficial to its institutional members, to the health care sector and ultimately the individuals they serve, but also will provide a new business base to the region that will draw attention and greater collaboration from interested leaders in related fields from all over the world.


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