Medical Device Technology’s (MDT) series of interviews offers personal perspectives on the diverse and dynamic medical device technology industry. Here, we talk to Dr Mark Begbie.
Q If I wasn’t talking to you right now, what would you be doing?
Dr Mark Begbie is Director of the Institute for System Level Integration (ISLI), Livingston, UK
A One of two things. I would be working with small- and medium-sized companies helping them with their plans to develop existing technologies into innovative new products. Or, I would be working with our university partners on matching the research developed in their laboratories to the practical working needs of the commercial sector.
Q How did you get into the medical device industry?
A The Institute was set up to specialise in silicon chip engineering, but as technology has evolved, we have found ourselves working in a variety of diverse fields and technologies. There are few new medical devices, or products in any field for that matter, on the market today that do not have a microchip at their heart. As a consequence, we are seeing more early product ideas that require integrated electronics to meet their market needs, and more of our relationships than ever before involve products for the healthcare sector.
Q What is the best thing about your work?
A What gets me out of bed in the morning is seeing clever research having an impact on real lives. The process of taking the discoveries and techniques that come out of university laboratories to the point where they are ready to be used is deeply satisfying. With applications to monitor people’s health or treat their conditions this is doubly true and I don’t see how anyone could ever tire of it.
Q What do you think is the most important medical device invention ever?
A The stethoscope. Its invention in 1851 marked one of the high-points of early medicine’s search for noninvasive methods of monitoring and assessing patients’ health, and despite the passage of more than 150 years it is still in service today. In fact, at ISLI we have recently been helping our colleagues at the Strathclyde Institute of Medical Devices, Glasgow, UK, with the development of an electronic stethoscope that uses electronic signal processing to greatly improve the diagnostic power of the instrument. Thus, I can attest to the fact that this marvellous device will remain an essential part of the medical toolkit for many years to come.
Q What should people give attention to?
A The process that transforms good ideas into good products. We have excellent universities creating new concepts and countless enterprises expert in production
Q What is the most exciting development on the horizon?
A In terms of my day to day work, it has to be the availability of ubiquitous computing and communications and the eff ect this is starting to have on wellness and health management. Our mobile phones can already act as a communication hub for other devices, or as an exercise monitor and could easily be employed to monitor activity in vulnerable groups such as the elderly. I believe this, coupled with the wider Internet infrastructure, is going to revolutionise personal wellness, community health support and, perhaps in the longer term, telemedicine. In a wider context, the impact of genetic and computational medicine promises to be spectacular. Gene research has already advanced rapidly and huge quantities of data are becoming available. Through the growth in combining this with computing systems capable of simulating interactions with whole new families of compounds, I expect to see a massive acceleration of the medical world’s capability.
Q What do you want from the business and academic communities?
A I would like the business community to look more closely at their industries and to put greater thought into the potential for innovation and development of emerging technologies. I would like universities to engage more strongly with the commercial sector, making their research more accessible to mainstream society and therefore more likely to be put to good use. ISLI sits at this juncture between academia and exploitation and it is an area that is seeing rapid growth, but there is still more we could realise.