This past July, professionals who focus on developing technologies to combat infectious diseases like malaria convened in Singapore for a pilot short course offered by MIT Professional Education that was a first for the Institute in Asia.
The course, New Technologies for Diagnosis and Treatment of Disease, capitalized on the presence of MIT faculty conducting research at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Centre. More than 30 MIT faculty members are engaged in projects at the SMART Centre, where they largely focus on applications of their research. The MIT Professional Education course, attended by 23 students, was taught on the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus.
Roger Kamm SM '73, PhD '77, the Germeshausen Professor of Mechanical and Biological Engineering, led the July course on advanced technologies to transform drug screening, toxicity testing, disease diagnosis and patient-specific therapies. Kamm is the lead principal investigator in SMART's BioSystems and Micromechanics interdisciplinary research group, so he usually spends four to six weeks in Singapore each year working on translating his research into potential clinical tools.
"The course we taught was at the intersection of fundamental science and industry applications so it appealed to both academic and industry audiences," Kamm says. Through lectures and laboratory demonstrations, he presented work on using microfluidic systems as a means to test new drug treatments.
Jianzhu Chen, the Ivan R. Cottrell Professor of Immunology, also presented a humanized mouse model he is developing as lead investigator of SMART's infectious disease research group. "Both technologies could eventually be adopted by the pharmaceutical industry so we showed the pros and cons of both."
The course also tapped the expertise of MIT Dean of Engineering Subra Suresh ScD '81, the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering. Suresh, whose span of research interests matches his appointments in four academic departments, discussed his work on the mechanobiology of red blood cells invaded by malaria parasites, and the ways in which disease diagnostics and therapeutics could be enhanced by this work.
"The work we do at MIT, and especially within the School of Engineering, needs to be connected with the places, people and institutions where it can have the greatest impact," says Suresh. "The school's outreach to working professionals through MIT Professional Education is a key component in this effort."
Another benefit of the Singapore course may be the birth of new collaborations. Participants shared their own work during informal discussions, including two research scientists from A*STAR, the government-funded institutes in Singapore that foster translational research. "We have some fabrication issues that they are very expert in and we might look to them for development," Kamm says.
The Singapore course was part of a new international outreach initiative of MIT Professional Education to supplement the more than 40 short programs it typically delivers on campus in the summer. The group's first international venture was a one-day course on solar energy held in conjunction with the MIT Industrial Liaison Program's Japan Conference in January 2009. According to Bhaskar Pant, executive director of MIT Professional Education, discussions are underway for additional courses, supporting the Institute's priority areas, in Singapore and India.