Working with Industry : A blog by Dr Howard Ring
To ‘work with industry’ is one of those aims that is simple to state but harder to achieve. In this brief article I will describe why I think it is easier said than done but also why I think it is worth the effort. For individuals or organisations to work together effectively they should have, at least to some extent, shared goals and complimentary contributions to make. Academic research has in the past been able to justify its existence in terms of the pursuit of knowledge ‘for its own sake’. Industry however needs to turn a profit. Historically these different demands led many in academia to think of industry as at best irrelevant and at worst obstructive. And coincidentally, many in Industry had a similar view of academia.
Recently however several challenges have led to a re-evaluation of academia’s view. Two related issues will be highlighted here. The first is the need for research to be applied. It is no longer sufficient for the pinnacle of a study to be its appearance as a published scientific paper. Research requires impact and impact often arises from wider application of discoveries. But research findings are often not in a form that readily enables this. And even if they are, the original study finance probably did not include funds to support such application. The second issue is the location of the relevant expertise to support the wider rolling out of a research finding. As well as issues such as the adapting of tailored technologies to mass production, financial, marketing and, increasingly, IT skills are required and these are relatively rare in academia.
From the perspective of industry there appears to be increasing recognition that new products and insights as to how to make best use of them, which business success requires, can be sourced through collaboration with academia. Consider the technology around wearable sensors. There are increasing numbers of these coming to the market and they can measure an ever wider range of physiological variables. Industry would like to sell them to clinicians and if possible probably also directly to the public at large. But to be attractive to purchasers wearable sensors should have a clear role and easy functionality.
This is where I am currently working with industry. A lot of people have epilepsy and the reliable and rapid detection of epileptic seizures, in the everyday settings in which people live, would bring a range of clinical benefits. Whilst seizure detection using scalp recording of electrical brain activity in hospital settings is commonplace, the recording devices are intrusive and people do not like wearing them in their everyday lives. However, other physiological variables, for instance describing heart rate or limb movement, can be more discretely monitored and research demonstrates that these variables may be useful in supporting seizure detection. However, to apply this research to larger clinical populations in the community requires the efficient collecting, transforming, transmitting, analysing and reporting of these physiological signals.
I am currently in discussion with two potential industry collaborators around how their technologies may be valuable in different aspects of this pathway. From such collaboration I gain access to the relevant expertise to enable real world application of research findings whilst the industrial partners gain advice in where the clinical needs are and how to develop and employ their products in such a way as to usefully meet those needs, which ultimately should help their sales.