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Office of Research Seed Grant Leads to Collaboration Between VMASC and Business College

It's amazing what can happen at Old Dominion University with a year and $37,000.

Two researchers at ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) received a $37,000 multidisciplinary seed grant from the Office of Research in December 2010 to develop a training simulation for blood management during surgery.

Working with Dr. Aryeh Shander of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey, one of the world's leading researchers in the patient blood management field, VMASC Executive Director John Sokolowski and Catherine Banks, research associate professor at VMASC, developed a Web-based simulation training tool, Physician Training in Patient Blood Management, that teaches optimal blood management practices for patients undergoing surgery.

The importance of this research stems from the mounting evidence of issues surrounding blood transfusion practice, including potential negative impact on patient safety and outcomes, the challenges of "blood economics" - the increasing cost to acquire and transfuse blood, as well as the limited supply of blood products.

This multidisciplinary effort between doctors and engineers demonstrates that Physician Training in Patient Blood Management is a highly interactive decision-making training tool, is user-friendly, engages an artificial intelligence engine, and is patient blood management information-based.

The tool also includes simulation that analyzes pre-operative, intra-operative and post-operative choices, is based on real patient cases, provides the trainee with error comments and evaluations in real time, and provides actual patient outcomes as realized in the case study.

"This tool is targeted for high-level medical professionals," Banks said. "I was pleasantly surprised with the collaboration we formed with these world-renowned blood management experts."

But how do health professionals find out such a tool exists? They soon might, thanks to a unique collaboration between VMASC and ODU's College of Business and Public Administration (CBPA).

Sokolowski and Gilbert Yochum, dean of the business college, had been speaking for some time about teaming up so that CBPA students could explore commercial applications for the modeling and simulation innovations developed by VMASC researchers.

A course was created in the M.B.A. program, New Venture Creation, taught by Mike Provance, assistant professor of business management. The course was introduced during the fall 2011 semester. The handful of students in Provance's class were given the blood management simulation and essentially told, "Commercialize this."

Provance appreciated having a real-life case study to work with for his M.B.A. students. "My plan had been to do something very hands-on anyway," he said. "It worked out great. The class was six people, the perfect size to work together on a project like this."

At the end of the semester, they presented their research and proposed business plan to Sokolowski, who was very impressed. "I thought they did an outstanding job," he said.

The students did an analysis of the market, discovering that no such product existed in commercial form. They costed it, developed a pricing analysis and a selling model, and looked at avenues for accessing the seed funding such a venture would require.

"They developed a business plan that an entrepreneur could take and form a company around. And it's not just this particular model. This company could provide medical modeling and simulation tools to the health care industry," Sokolowski said.

While the engineers at VMASC knew the simulation tool had clear commercial value, they simply didn't have the expertise to take it to market, a service the M.B.A. students clearly provided, Sokolowski noted.

"The partnership that was formed by our two organizations is a clear success story on how to collaborate among groups here at ODU," he said.

Yochum agrees. He hopes further collaborations can be established with VMASC researchers in the days ahead. "This is the best of all worlds for our M.B.A. students: hands-on practice in the application of classroom theory. It is one of the best examples I can think of for advancing the college and university strategic interests," he said.

This article was posted on: January 23, 2012

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