Virtual Reality Series: Using Simulations to Achieve Real-Life Benefits in Healthcare Part 2

Uses of VR in Medical Procedures and Education

Virtual reality helps medical professionals plan for and execute complex procedures, especially in the surgical field. This technology is being implemented in medical schools and surgical training programs so that the next generation of doctors can be trained in innovative techniques to prepare for their future in the medical field and the operating room. Revisit part 1 in the blog series Introduction to Virtual Reality in Healthcare.

Surgery 

VR has been used in surgical procedures since the early 1990s when technology was used to plan out surgeries and present complicated information visually. Since then, VR has been incorporated into numerous medical fields, ranging from neurosurgery to plastic surgery. Surgeries that use VR typically involve tools like haptic devices or immersive workbenches.

Haptic devices are any sort of VR device that allows for a virtual sense of touch through vibrations or force feedback as they move in certain ways. It can be used in games such as driving simulations, in which an individual may receive physical pressure in response to “crashing.” In the medical field, haptic technology allows for remote surgery through being synced with robots that perform work on the patient with a surgeon controlling the device such that they feel like they are operating directly.

Immersive workbenches are physical displays that, when paired with special goggles, allow an individual to see and manipulate a three-dimensional image. VR researchers dispute whether this is a true virtual environment or not, given that the individual is still aware of their physical surroundings even though they are able to manipulate virtual objects. However, the workbench can be used to plan out or practice complex medical procedures through simulating surgery on a displayed human body.

Education

From helping ease communication to allowing people to walk in another’s shoes, VR has used simulations in multiple ways to further education in the medical field. Embodied Labs aims to aid senior citizens through teaching people what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s disease using simulations. Allowing individuals to experience firsthand what it is like to live with a condition makes it easier to identify how to take care of those who have it.

Medical schools also see VR as an avenue for surgeons-in-training to develop and perfect more technical, difficult skills, like performing surgery. Students can use technology like haptic devices or immersive workbenches to practice operating, allowing them to make mistakes in a way that won’t result in anyone getting hurt. In recent years, VR simulators have been able to provide objective feedback or ratings on their work, as the systems understand which procedures are correct.

Virtual reality acts as a programmed helper for doctors, making procedures safer for patients and creating new ways to prepare students for medical and surgical careers. In the final part of the Virtual Reality in Healthcare Series, we will discuss the use of VR in therapeutic medicine and the future of VR in healthcare.

Virtual Reality Series: Using Simulations to Achieve Real-Life Benefits in Healthcare Part 1

Introduction to Virtual Reality in Healthcare

Communication in the healthcare industry can improve healthcare experience and outcomes for everyone involved. Whether it’s a doctor explaining treatment options to a patient or an instructor teaching a class how to perform surgery, medical work relies on clear and effective instructions. However, in situations when verbal explanations can be complicated or difficult to follow, how do we make information easy to understand?

One technology that has cost-efficiently increased communication in clinical medicine by “showing” rather than just “telling” is virtual reality (VR). VR, also known as a virtual environment, produces simulations that help provide information to anyone from doctors and researchers to patients and students. Medical experts have leveraged these simulations to perform tasks like helping patients with rehabilitation and pain management or giving students surgery and treatment training. By placing an individual in a virtual environment, they can learn by visualizing information in addition to receiving auditory cues.

With new, cutting-edge research being produced in this field every day, VR holds much potential for expansion. The global VR healthcare market was valued at almost 4.3 billion dollars in 2020, with a projected growth to five billion dollars by 2023. This growth indicates that VR utilization in healthcare will continue to grow in the future, making VR a potential turning point in future medical endeavors and an important field to understand.

How virtual reality works

While VR takes many different forms, each variation includes three-dimensional, seemingly life-sized images that shift as a viewer moves. It’s important to distinguish VR from augmented reality, which is similar in that it uses technology to change what a person perceives but doesn’t shut out the physical world. The feeling that the viewer experiences while being immersed in and interacting with VR is telepresence, which allows them to feel like they’re actually in a different world.

VR utilizes both hardware and software in its operations. The hardware uses sensors to track movement and the software then processes that data to generate a proper response, such as changing the landscape as an individual turns their head. Telepresence is made possible by a combination of various technologies. These include but are not limited to: high-quality graphics that can change quickly in a large field of view; lasers, lights, and sensors that track eye and head movement to adjust visuals accordingly; navigation devices that allow an individual to “move” around smoothly; and sound effects via headphones.

Using complex landscape designs and automated responses, VR can be used to “create” worlds in which people can simulate realistic situations as well as fantastical ones. In this three-part series about VR in healthcare, we will explore how VR affects two main fields of healthcare: surgical practice and education, and physical and emotional therapies. Stay tuned to learn more about the applications of VR in these important parts of the medical world!

The History of the Technology Behind the New Year’s Ball Drop

The ball drop has become an iconic staple for New Year’s Eve celebrations worldwide. This is especially true in New York’s Times Square celebration. Despite the seemingly modern invention, the first iteration of the nearly twelve-thousand-pound ball was created back in the nineteenth century. Can you guess the surprising link between ship navigation and the New Year’s Ball Drop?

Time balls originated in the early eighteen-hundreds. Since this was before there were time zones in America, most cities kept track of their own time based on the sun. The lack of centralized time made it difficult to know the exact time while at sea, which made this knowledge a crucial job for navigators to figure out. In 1818, Captain Robert Wauchope of the Royal Navy decided that it would be a good idea to create a visual signal from a coastal naval observatory that captains could see from their decks. This signal would allow them to keep track of time. In 1833, England’s Royal Observatory started the tradition of dropping a lighted ball to signal the exact time. When captains saw light from the ball, they checked their chronometers against the official time. The ball dropped at 1 pm every afternoon, which allowed the captains of nearby ships to precisely set their instrumentation. By 1845, there were a dozen or so time balls installed around the world.

On land, however, it took longer for this tradition to be adopted. The first New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square did not occur until 1907, even though the first Times Square New Year’s Celebration took place in 1904. The first ball drop used a flagpole on the Times Building. This time ball was made by an immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr, and it was made of iron, wood, and 100 25-watt light bulbs. It was 5 feet in diameter and weighed around 700 pounds.

Since the first drop in 1907, the New Year’s Eve Time Square ball drop has become a tradition. The Times moved in 1913, but the Times Square ball drop continued on. The only years it did not drop were 1942 and 1943, due to the complications with World War II. Up until 1995, the ball was lowered using similar manual pulling and stopwatch methods of the older time balls. Today, however, the drop is initiated by a laser-cooled atomic clock in Colorado. This is the primary time standard for the United States.

The Times Square ball drop is a popular tradition, and there are new patented inventions related to the ball drop that has arisen to change and improve this tradition. One example of this is the synchronized confetti sprayer and descending illuminated ball (US6260989B1).

This device is a synchronized confetti sprayer and descending illuminated ball with a digital display that counts down the seconds until the ball descends to the bottom. Once the ball descends, the confetti sprayer, noisemaker, and flashing lights are activated in celebration.

The New Year’s time ball as we know it today has been inspired by a variety of different patented inventions:

  • The New Year’s ball drop illuminating device patent [US2005138851]
  • The disco light ball, which preceded the time balls [US4389598]
  • The synchronized confetti sprayer and descending illuminated ball [US6260989]
  • The laser light show device with holographic image projection [US5090789]

The technology and purpose behind the New Year’s Eve ball drop has changed a lot over the years, and inventors will continue to make improvements to the ball drop as technology continues to advance.

 

Sources:

 

 

10 of the Most Festive Cities in the World

With the holidays quickly approaching, we found ourselves in search of a little extra holiday spirit. Cities around the world vary in their winter holiday traditions and decorations, from extravagant lights and Christmas markets to ice skating and Santa’s hometown. We rounded up ten of the most festive cities across the globe.

  1. Vienna during Christmas

    Vienna, Austria holiday decorations. Image courtesy of Linda Kesserling.

    Vienna, Austria: Do you love holiday markets and the smell of roasted almonds and spiced Christmas punch? Vienna might be your ideal holiday city. The extravagant holiday markets transport you back in time. Enchanting holiday lights, Christmas trees, classical music, and carousel rides mean joyful activities for all ages. In Vienna, the big day of celebration actually occurs on Christmas Eve, called “Heiligenabend.”

  2. Montreal, Québec: During the holidays, Montreal is all about the arts and entertainment. If you’re up for a chilly evening walk, you can experience the magic of Village de Noël’s tree-lined, wintry garden. Pop-up performances, incredible lights, and decorations bring downtown Montreal to life. There are also Christmas markets, holiday orchestra performances, and ice skating to immerse you into the holiday spirit.
  3. London, England: At this time of year, London is overflowing with the holiday spirit. Go on a Christmas lights tour, treat yourself to the best of holiday shopping, or enjoy “Hogwarts in the Snow” if you’re a Harry Potter fan! There’s also an abundance of Christmas markets and delicious food to enjoy throughout the city.
  4. Rovaniemi, Finland: This might be the most beautifully festive city in the world! It’s covered in glistening snow, and you can even catch a stunning show of the northern lights. Rovaniemi is situated right at the Arctic Circle, and is known as the “Official Hometown of Santa Claus.” If you’re looking for a classic, genuine Christmas experience, you have to visit the Santa Claus Village. Here you can cross the Arctic Circle, meet Santa’s reindeer, and even try husky sledding!

    New York City Holiday Decorations

    Holiday decorations in New York City, New York. Photo Credit: June Marie, https://flic.kr/p/iqna18

  5. New York City, United States: The city that never sleeps truly comes alive during Christmas time. New York’s holiday celebrations are over the top, including the magnificently tall Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza, ice skating in Central Park, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which ends with Santa entering the city, officially kicking off the season. You can stroll through the streets, looking at festive window displays, or catch the Rockette’s holiday special at Radio City Music Hall. The options are endless, and the spirit can be felt throughout all of Manhattan!
  6. Prague, Czech Republic: In the Czech Republic, Christmas trees aren’t decorated until Christmas Eve, which is also celebrated with a large feast. Families decorate their trees with ornaments, apples, and other sweets. Nicholas Day is also celebrated on December 5th, which marks the start of Christmas in Prague. Traditions begin unfolding in the Old Town Square during the late afternoon, where St. Nicholas will appear and ask each child if they’ve been good that year. Between the stunning architecture, the Prague Christmas Market, and carolers singing, there is plenty for visitors to enjoy during the holidays!
  7. Stuttgart, Germany: The iconic Stuttgart Christmas Market (“Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt”) occurs every year in the city’s central square and was first recorded by the city in 1692. It now consists of over 200 stands and is one of the largest Christmas markets in Germany. Activities include shopping, a children’s fairyland, and live nativity scene. Millions of people visit each year to enjoy the twinkling lights, Christmas treats, and mulled wine.
  8. Edinburgh, Scotland: In Scotland’s capital, holiday celebrations carry on for about six weeks, concluding on New Year’s Eve. There is a Christmas tree maze for all ages, where one can wind their way through to find Santa’s Elves Workshop at the end. Get a panoramic view of the city’s beautiful holiday lights from their Ferris wheel, stroll through the city and check out their yearly “Winter Windows” installment, or visit the Christmas market nestled below Edinburgh Castle.
  9. Québec City, Canada: Just before the beginning of December, Old Québec turns into a magical Christmas village, transporting you into what they call a “Living Christmas Card.” With its 18th century architecture, fresh fallen snow, and twinkly trees lining the street, Petit-Champlain is a must see on your holiday visit. There is a German-style Christmas Market, designed to evoke the charm of the classic markets in Europe. Visitors can partake in ice skating, themed guided tours, and concerts where all the best holiday carols are sung.
  10. Leavenworth, Washington: A Bavarian village tucked away in Washington State, Leavenworth is a town known for its Alpine-style buildings and picturesque setting. During the holiday season, it turns into “Christmastown”, where over 500,000 lights cover the snowy city, and celebrations continue all month long.  There are lighting ceremonies, a gingerbread house competition, and even the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm. There’s sledding, snowmobiling, and skiing all around the area. There is an abundance of shops to find the perfect gift for a loved one (or yourself), and there’s also a Nutcracker Museum with the best collection of nutcrackers in the world.

Beware of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease!

While “a fatty liver” is a phrase typically heard in association with excessive alcohol consumption or with dry January, even those who don’t consume alcohol can develop a fatty liver. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is a disease that affects up to 25 percent of the population world-wide.

A healthy liver contains a lipid (fat) concentration of about 5 percent by weight. A person whose liver has a lipid concentration of more than 5 percent is said to have NAFLD. NAFLD encompasses a wide range of conditions, from the slightly above normal accumulation of lipids in the liver and minimal liver damage to Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH), in which the liver is severely damaged due to lipid build up. NAFLD increases chances of developing liver cancer and cardiovascular disease.

One of the main functions of the liver is to perform fat metabolism. The liver converts excess carbohydrates into triglycerides (a type of lipid) and oxidizes lipids to produce energy. Lipids accumulate in the liver when the rate of lipid synthesis in the liver exceeds the rate of lipid oxidation. One of the main causes of excessive lipid synthesis is insulin resistance.

Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels by promoting the absorption of glucose in the blood by the liver and muscles. In addition, insulin also simulates lipid synthesis in the liver. Insulin resistance takes place when the liver and the muscles are no longer sensitive to insulin and do not absorb glucose from blood. To prevent blood glucose levels from rising, the body starts to secrete more and more insulin. Insulin resistance, however, doesn’t suppress lipid synthesis in the liver. As a result, lipid synthesis increases as the body secretes higher amounts of insulin, leading to the accumulation of fats in the liver and subsequently, liver damage. Insulin resistance is also a cause of Type 2 diabetes, and 70% of patients with Type 2 diabetes also have NAFLD.

Despite the potentially severe consequences of NAFLD/NASH, there are no symptoms in early stages. As liver damage increases, symptoms including fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and pain in the abdomen may be seen. NAFLD/NASH is not usually directly diagnosed; diagnosis takes place when tests are done to diagnose other health problems.

Some of the risk factors for NAFLD include obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. While there are no FDA-approved drugs to treat NAFLD, lifestyle changes including exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet low in carbohydrates and fats, and cutting back on alcohol can reduce and even reverse liver damage.

References:
More about the molecular pathogenesis of NASH: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6136489/
More on the evidence linking NAFDL to insulin resistance: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925443914002579

An Unsugar-coated Look at Diabetes

Most people have some familiarity with diabetes. A family member, perhaps, takes medication to control it, or maybe a friend is avoiding dessert to keep their sugar levels in check. In the US, 10% of the population has diabetes. Diabetes numbers are ballooning all over the world. It is projected that there will be over 365 million cases of diabetes world-wide by 2030 – a couple million more than the population of the United States today.

Diabetes is a metabolic disease which causes high blood sugar. Typically, when we eat, our blood sugar levels increase due to the digestion of carbohydrates in our food. Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, binds to receptors on the surface of muscle and fat cells, setting off a series of reactions that ultimately help the cells absorb glucose from the blood. Diabetes can occur when the cells in the pancreas that secrete insulin (called beta-cells) are destroyed by the immune system and can no longer produce insulin. This condition is called Type 1 diabetes, and most frequently appears between the ages 4-7 and between 10-14. Type 1 diabetes is relatively rare – only about 5% of those diagnosed with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes.

The more common type of diabetes is called Type 2 diabetes. This is when the body is either unable to produce sufficient insulin because of damage to beta-cells, or because the cells of the body no longer respond to insulin and no longer absorb glucose from blood, a phenomenon that is called insulin resistance. While there are several factors, both genetic and environmental, that can lead to insulin resistance, obesity is said to account for up to 85% of the risk. This is because fat cells produce a chemical called tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) which prevents the chemical reaction from proceeding when insulin binds to receptors on fat or muscle cells. As a result, the body has to secrete large amounts of insulin to ensure that excess blood sugar is absorbed. However, the increased insulin secretion also leads to the production of fat cells, which in turn increase insulin resistance – setting off a vicious cycle. Eventually, as insulin resistance increases, the body is not able to secrete the amount of insulin required for cells to absorb all the glucose in the blood, leading to high blood sugar levels. Additionally, these higher-than-normal blood sugar levels caused by insulin resistance can damage beta-cells, hampering their ability to produce insulin, and further pushing the body along the path of diabetes.

If diabetes is not controlled, it can lead to severe complications. Because of the interconnectedness between obesity and diabetes, diabetics are prone to developing heart disease. High blood sugar can also tax kidneys and the liver. Patients with severe diabetes can also have foot problems because arteries become narrow due to fat deposits and can no longer supply sufficient blood to legs. However, diabetes can be controlled! If controlled – by maintaining a healthy weight, by eating healthy food, and by exercising regularly – people with diabetes can live normal lives.

References:
More on the molecular mechanisms of insulin resistance: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3083885/
Genetic factors that contributing to development of diabetes: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC408413/

15 Good Minutes: Erik Dreaden

Erik Dreaden, PhD is an assistant professor in Emory’s department of pediatrics and department of biomedical engineering, a shared department between Emory and GA Tech. The Dreaden Lab has been working hard to create an exciting light-responsive immunotherapy technology. This unique technology works to target cancer cells using light.

The goal of this developing technology is to improve current cancer therapies and immunotherapy. Dreaden’s interest in the field of cancer grew over time, as cancer has been a large part of his life. His father battled melanoma and colon cancer, so it has personally impacted his work and touched him.

Dreaden’s motivation has also been shaped by visiting the children’s hospital and seeing kids with cancer. As he states, “What keeps me motivated is seeing how underserved kids with cancer truly are. There is a tendency is to think children’s cancers are small adult cancers. However, they are completely different sets of diseases and come with more profound side effects. Having proximity to patients in need helps to amplify motivation on a daily basis.”

When it comes to failure in research he approaches failure with a sense of optimism. “Failure is a part of everyday life as a researcher. In fact, I tell my students that I believe that the vast majority of science and engineering researchers will face failure. The ability to take that failure and move forward is what differentiates good scientists and engineers from great scientists and engineers. Every day, within the research field, you become more humiliated. Whether that be of a random chance or human error – for instance, you didn’t put a cap on something. Individuals who take failure personally, like me, can feel upset. But the other side of the coin is when you are personally invested in the research – that internal motivation keeps you going after that failure. It is a matter of moving the field forward, personal interest motivation, and patients that keep you going.”

When Dreaden began graduate school, he found a mentor and advisor and began to ask the question: “Can we use nanoscale materials to maximize therapeutic potential?” “My PhD advisor Mostafa El-Sayed is a tremendous person. Someone you look at and aspire to be as fulfilled in their work as they are – he is always enthusiastic and positive as he could be. He is someone I have always really admired and learned a tremendous amount from. Another inspirational person in my life is Paula Hammond at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and she was the kind of person that you can always depend on anytime of day. You could call her, and she would drop everything to help someone on the team. Having optimistic, dependable, and enthusiastic individuals is essential. When I try to build a team, I think about my mentors and what qualities I look for.”

Given the impact of my mentors on my professional life I give special attention to creating the team in my lab. The medical fellows and postdoctoral fellows in the lab are integral part of the daily research. In his lab, medical fellows play a critical role. Their ability to move laterally is extremely beneficial to the lab. “We have a fantastic medical fellow, one from hematology, and that individual can move from the clinic to the lab, back and forth in one day. The exciting part is that they are in the middle of treating patients with a standard of care, then going to technology to where we hope the technology can surpass that standard of care. Being able to communicate with patients and say, ‘Hey this is what working with and this is what is possible from clinical trials.’ Not to mention, applying the knowledge and data towards their own work and coming to the lab to help de-risk this technology and make it more attractive. “

Another incredible asset to the research team is the post-doctoral fellows. The post-doctoral fellows bring in diverse perspectives and have a great foundation in biology. “Our postdoctoral fellows bring in diverse perspectives. I almost always try to make it a point to hire people from different backgrounds as well as basic science backgrounds because our work is so applied and so outcome focused.”

Dreaden’s view on his own personal success are humble. “I think people that know me, know that I am an intensely forward-looking person to a fault. The fault being, that I think reflection is important too. I am always thinking of the future, rather than thinking of what I have done successfully in the past. The most exciting part of this work is the things we have not done yet.”

Erik Dreaden: https://winshipcancer.emory.edu/bios/faculty/dreaden-erik.html

Fighting HER2+ Breast Cancer with the Immune System

In the late 70s, scientists discovered that the body contains certain cancer-causing genes, which if mutated, lead to the development of cancer. This discovery unleashed a flurry of research in which scientists tried to identify genes that could be directly implicated in cancer. Scientists found one such gene – the HER2 gene – which is overexpressed in about 20% of breast cancers. This cancer was thus named HER2+ breast cancer. It is a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer; it typically does not respond to traditional chemotherapy, and patients with HER2+ breast cancer have a higher likelihood of cancer recurrence.

The HER2 gene codes for the HER2 is a receptor which, along with other receptors, plays an important role in regulating a variety of (sometimes contradictory) processes including cell growth, cell proliferation, and apoptosis (cell death when something in the cellular machinery goes very wrong). In normal cells, the activity of HER2 and the associated cell-signaling pathways is very strictly regulated.

The mutation causing this cancer leads to an overexpression of HER2 receptors, which in turn leads to the activation of signaling pathways that enhance cell survival and the suppression of the action of proteins that prevent the growth of damaged cells, both of which lead to the formation of tumors.

While most chemotherapy treatments have been ineffective at treating HER2+ type breast cancer, targeted immunotherapy in the form of trastuzumab has been effective in improving outcomes. Trastuzumab is a monoclonal antibody that binds to the HER2 receptor, which prevents HER2 from binding to the other receptors that are necessary for the activation of the signaling pathways that lead to tumor growth. The antibodies also activate the body’s immune system, which recruits cells that release cytotoxic chemicals into the environment surrounding the tumor cells, ultimately killing them.

While trastuzumab has improved the prognosis of HER2+ breast cancer patients – in some studies, the median overall survival has increased by nearly 5 years – many patients develop resistance against trastuzumab. This is often because the shape and structure of the HER2 receptor in tumor cells undergoes a change, due to which trastuzumab can no longer bind to HER2 and can no longer prevent it from activating signaling pathways. Further research into different targeted drugs is currently underway and in 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved another antibody, atezolizumab, to treat breast cancer.

References:
More on the discovery of the HER2 gene: https://www.gene.com/stories/her2/
How trastuzumab works: https://www-nejm-org.proxy.library.emory.edu/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra043186
More on immunotherapies to threat HER2+ breast cancer: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41523-020-0153-3

From the Director: COVID-19’s Impact on Technology Transfer

Todd Sherer, PhD is the Associate VP for Research and Executive Director of the Emory Office of Technology Transfer. In this article, Todd Sherer discusses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the technology transfer industry and on the Emory Office of Technology Transfer specifically.

Humankind has longed for better ways of doing things for centuries.  More recently, this phenomenon to make products that solve problems, as well as to create jobs and wealth, has been termed the “innovation economy”.  The demand for technology innovation is global, and there is always the desire to make people healthier and happier. However, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic came with a new sense of urgency that dramatically changed the way technology innovation happens. The pandemic provided glaring examples of how a sense of urgency arising from a sense of fear could have a positive impact on funding and the acceleration of timelines for bringing new products to market.

“That is exciting because it has torn down some of the traditional and conventional thinking around timeline and investments. We realize now that things can — and should — move faster,” said Todd Sherer, the Executive Director of the Emory Office of Technology Transfer. “It is maddening that all life-saving therapies don’t move as fast as the COVID therapies,” he said.

Todd Sherer Photo

Todd Sherer, PhD, CLP, RTTP

One of the major adjustments for the Emory Office of Technology Transfer during the pandemic is that work went completely remote. “Technology transfer and commercialization are things that rely heavily on human contact,” explained Sherer, “People talking to other people, meeting other people, those connections and collisions are critically important for making the system work.” Emory OTT, much like other offices globally, was concerned about whether they could work effectively to commercialize new innovations with a fully remote workforce. “I think we proved that yes, we can,” Sherer said.

Another major change in the profession was the increased sense of urgency for innovations related to COVID-19, such as therapeutics and diagnostics. Pandemic-related innovations were prioritized during this time to accelerate their development. Although there were financial challenges that arose in technology transfer during the pandemic, there were also record levels of funds made available from the federal government to help push innovation forward.

Staff retention and recruitment experienced challenges during this time as well, as the pandemic created a very unstable job market. “It hit us in technology transfer the same way that it hit the rest of the world. We are all being impacted by this period of the great resignation,” said Sherer.

“Technology transfer provides good background training on intellectual property and how new ideas get moved to the marketplace,” explained Sherer, “One of the things we are doing at Emory to encourage staff retention is creating hybrid work environments.”  This makes it easier for offices to retain and recruit staff because potential employees often want that flexibility that a remote environment provides. Another thing OTT is focused on to boost staff retainment is encouraging people to rebalance their work and personal lives. Throughout the pandemic, people have become tired and burnt out and are looking for ways to better balance their professional and personal lives.

What technology transfer witnessed and experienced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic proved that it was possible to find funding and accelerated timelines for commercializing new innovations. The challenge moving forward is to push more technologies down an accelerated path. There are countless other diseases and afflictions that could benefit from similar accelerated funding and timelines. “It is imperative that we find new solutions for them too,” Sherer said. The hope for the future of technology transfer is to apply the lessons learned during the pandemic to improve the future of technology commercialization.

Breaking Down Breast Cancer

Around 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Cancer happens when abnormal cells grow and divide uncontrollably. Though breast cancer primarily appears in women, men can actually get breast cancer too and are affected by the same types of breast cancer as women. About 1 in every 100 diagnosed case of breast cancer in the U.S. affects men. Breast cancer becomes particularly dangerous when it spreads outside the breast through blood and lymph vessels, a process called metastasizing.

The most common type of breast cancer is Invasive ductal carcinoma, where cancer cells begin in the ducts that bring milk to the nipple. Many breast cancers also start in the glands that make milk, called invasive lobular carcinoma. It is unclear why some people get breast cancer while others do not. However, research has indicated certain risk factors for breast cancer including age, genetic mutations, and family history. Other factors surrounding lifestyle include not being physically active, taking hormones, and drinking alcohol.

Some symptoms of breast cancer are lumps in the breast or underarm, nipple retraction, irritation of the breast skin, and nipple discharge.  Mammograms, X-rays of the breast, can be used to detect small tumors in the breast before the tumors are big enough to see or feel. In addition to mammograms, doctors may also use breast ultrasounds, and MRIs to diagnose breast cancer in certain patients. Doctors may also use a biopsy, a test that removes fluid from the breast to perform further testing on. Treatments are chosen based on the type and severity of the cancer. Most breast lumps come from non-cancerous conditions such as fibrocystic condition, which causes breast tenderness, and cysts, small growths filled with fluid.

There are many treatments for breast cancer, and patients often get multiple different treatments. Chemotherapy uses medicine to kill cancer cells. Radiation energy uses intense energy beams to kill cancer cells. Hormonal therapy blocks estrogen receptors on breast cancer cells. Surgery can also be used to cut out cancerous tissues. Patients will meet with their oncologist to develop a treatment plan combining different types of treatments. For early-stage invasive cancers, doctors usually recommend surgery. For larger cancers, doctors usually recommend chemotherapy or hormonal treatment before surgery. After surgery, doctors often recommend adjuvant therapy to lower the risk of recurrence and can include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormonal therapy. Some patients also use a tumor board, a group of medical experts on cancer who work together to find a treatment plan.

Breast cancer death rates are higher than other types of cancer. It is also the most common type of cancer in women, accounting for 30% of all diagnosed cancers in women. Luckily, the breast cancer death rate is decreasing because of advances in treatment and the ability to detect breast cancer earlier through better screening.

Sources: