Kirby G. Vosburgh: Building Successful Collaborations Between Clinicians and Engineers
Collaboration across medical and engineering disciplines is often vital to success in establishing hi-tech solutions to challenges in clinical care. The motivations and goals of these collaborations will be presented. Understanding the differences in professional approaches practiced by clinicians and engineers will be highlighted, and various methods for establishing collaborations will be explored. Suggestions will then be provided on making collaborations successful. Finally, some factors to consider for the next phase: Tech Transfer will be outlined.
Dr. Vosburgh’s academic career was concentrated in physics and applied physics. His PhD thesis still stands as the most precise measurement of the lifetime of the K-long meson. At Princeton, he was a principal contributor to the team that accomplished the first acceleration of heavy ions to relativistic energies. He then conducted some of the first laboratory studies of these beams, including their application to cancer therapy.
Dr. Vosburgh joined GE Corporate Research in 1972. His initial project was the design and prototyping of a new X-ray Image Intensifier, which was put into production by GE Medical Systems as the Z7954 XRII Tube. He then worked on teams to develop algorithms for the first GE whole body CT scanner. He was the Principal Investigator for an NSF-funded study of radiographic image storage (Radiology, 1977).
In 1978, Dr. Vosburgh was promoted to be a research manger, with increasing levels of responsibility over 22 years. He reached the GE Senior Executive Band, and was responsible for several successful product developments. For most of this period, he served as the liaison between the corporate laboratories and the GE Medical Systems Business, with several activities supporting that business in the US, France, and Japan.
Among the biomedical products and technologies developed by his teams (with many collaborators) were the Signa-SP open MRI image guided therapy system, medical ultrasound prototypes (key to the Logiq E9 product), angiographic, spectroscopic, and cardiac MRI technology, the imaging systems for the “Open Speed” MRI, the Visualization Toolkit (now widely used for medical imaging research), MR-Guided focused ultrasound surgery (now a successful spin-off product in clinical use), open-system software quality methodologies, and mutual-information based metrology systems. Other developments included the A/VLSI integrated circuit process, which ran in production for over a decade, the first VLSI integrated circuits to fly in space, large scale color flat panel displays for avionics applications (which grew into the GE flat panel x-ray detector products), the Genura electrode-less fluorescent lamp, weather graphics software for NBC, advanced algorithms for satellite image understanding. and several materials technologies which were the differentiating element in GE products such as varistor surge protectors, coated incandescent light bulbs, radar absorbing materials for jet engines, and mercury reduction in fluorescent lamps.
Dr. Vosburgh retired from GE in 2000, and joined the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT) and Harvard Medical School (HMS), based at Mass General Hospital (MGH). There he applied his mentoring and leadership skills to create high tech solutions to clinical problems by supporting teams of physicians and engineers. Two principal responsibilities were serving as the liaison with the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (CIMIT’s funding agency), and managing the science project selection and oversight process at CIMIT, which awarded $5-12M annually to multidisciplinary translational medical projects in the Boston area.
In 2004, he created and directed the Clinical Image Guidance Laboratory: CIGL, which has typically included 2 PhD technologists, 1 recent medical school graduate, and 2 practicing physician fellows and spans Brigham and Women’s (BWH) and MGH . CIGL’s goal is to bring high technology methods pioneered in radiology to the direct benefit of surgeons and gastroenterologists; that is, to allow them the benefits of “in scanner” procedure guidance while not requiring complex radiologic equipment in their procedure or operating rooms. As a hands on Principal Investigator, he has participated directly in porcine model surgeries (n>25) and tests in humans (n>12) as well as the responsibility for scientific direction and administrative processes (SRAC, IRB) for these studies. A key contribution of the laboratory has been the development of kinematics-based analysis of operator performance. This has been applied to laparoscopic and endoscopic surgery, and most recently to performance characterization in diagnostic examinations such as colonoscopy. He devoted at least 1/3 of his time to this work for seven years, and thus gained direct experience in the practical aspects of inserting high technology procedures into clinical practice. In 2010-13, he phased down his administrative activities and now works at BWH as a research leader, with the goal of advancing ultrasound image registration technologies and expanding their clinical impact.
Dr. Vosburgh has taken a leading role in the evaluation and validation of new medical procedures, writing and lecturing on the topic, and organizing and hosting sessions on “procedure validation” at international conferences for the past few years. Recently he has been serving as the Chairman of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine Task Force #240: Ultrasound Guided Therapy. Also, he lectures and serves a coach in medical device technology transfer with the Boston Biomedical Innovation Center, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, and as an independent consultant.