Chalmers Health Engineering – advancing Life Science innovation

12 May, 2020

Unexpected meetings often lead to unconventional innovations. That could also be a way to describe Chalmers’ Areas of Advance aiming to facilitate these interactions. The newest Area of Advance, Health Engineering, was formally inaugurated in January this year. A timely and well-placed initiative in a region that is establishing itself as a hotspot for sector convergence within Life Science. Sahlgrenska Science Park’s board member Ann-Sofie Cans is the director of Health Engineering.

Text: Mia Ekdahl

The task of Health Engineering is to create connections between Chalmers’ Life Science-related projects and scientists, and more importantly with the outside world. The aim is to contribute to societal and public health challenges through cross-fertilisation of ideas and coordination of relations with external partners. Five initial profile areas are identified, but not set in stone.

“Health is an area of constant relevance and change. Prevention, diagnostics, treatment, healthcare systems and facilities – these are all big topics. I want to establish a shop front to the world and a stage for our scientists to interact with each other and the entire Life Science ecosystem,” says Ann-Sofie Cans, Director of Chalmers Health Engineering and Associate professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.

We talk about interdisciplinary cluster formations like the centre FormulaEx, funded by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research. The centre focus on design of new drug-delivery methods for the next generation of nucleotide drugs. Here, researchers from different departments at Chalmers has created an interdisciplinary cluster together with Gothenburg University, Karolinska Institutet and industry partners such as Astra Zeneca, Camurus, Vironova, Evox and Gothenburg Sensor Devices.

“The idea is to leverage more opportunities like that and to co-create solutions with industry partners. That is part of our commitment to Sahlgrenska Science Park. Chalmers should be at forefront of applied science in health.  I have always appreciated connecting with people outside my own area of expertise. It simply helps to broaden perspectives and in addition, you increase your chances of making impact through your work. To me, one of our tasks is to blur the lines between engineers and clinicians.”

A few years back, Ann-Sofie Cans was co-director for a former area of advance within Chalmers, called Life Science Engineering. Unfortunately, the scope was a bit too narrow for the university and the initiative was discontinued. However, the concept of increased interdisciplinary research had made an impact on Ann-Sofie.

“The Areas of Advance have done wonders to Chalmers’ ways of working, and so many exciting ideas was borne through Life Science Engineering. I never gave up on the idea of a strong Chalmers network within health.”

For two years, Ann-Sofie and her colleague Ivan Mijakovic interviewed and mapped research teams and ongoing projects within Chalmers. In late 2018, they had named more than 200 researchers with health-related interests and projects and had identified proposed profile leaders. Next step was to anchor the concept outside of Chalmers.

“Our President Stefan Bengtsson says: ‘the most important role of an Area of Advance is to broaden our reach outside of the university and to utilise values existing elsewhere’. We knew that external engagement would be crucial to our future success, so we have spent a lot of time ensuring key partners were willing to dedicate resources before we started.”

Since the formal opening in January it has been busy days. Soon, the team will host the first community building event with all of the 200 researchers – digitally of course. They also anticipate signing a string of new collaborations with other academic institutions and industry partners, initially in the Nordics.  Are there boundaries for the number of scientists connected to Health Engineering?

“The sky is the limit! We have all waited so long to see this come to fruition and the willingness and excitement in the science community is tangible for moving with speed. Judging from the very high quality of applications for our open positions from across the world, I would say we are on to something good here.”

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