Expanded programs let students pursue medicine, tech, and engineering interests in one place.
During his first year at Alpert Medical School, Adam Eltorai ScM’16 MD’17 collaborated with two graduate students at Brown to develop a flameless lighter that tracks smoking behavior and helps people quit smoking. Their invention is in clinical trials and they’ve founded a company, Quitbit.
Eltorai, who worked in a lab developing antibodies for Alzheimer’s disease when he was an undergrad at Washington University in St. Louis, knew he wanted to continue doing clinically applicable research as a medical student. The design aspect of the Quitbit work was even more gratifying, he says.
“I found the creativity of device development very satisfying, and wanted to add engineering tools to my armamentarium,” Eltorai says. He decided to take a leave from medical school to pursue a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, which he will receive in May; this fall, Eltorai will begin pursuing his PhD in biotechnology.
More and more students like Eltorai are finding an intellectual home at Brown, which is stepping up its biotechnology and biomedical engineering graduate programs to meet increased demand, says program director Jacquelyn Schell PhD’12, assistant professor (research) of molecular pharmacology, physiology, and biotechnology (MPPB). In 2012, the two programs enrolled only a dozen students combined; this year they boast 65. Graduates pursue industry careers, continue in academia, or go to medical school.
The graduate programs have many tracks to appeal to diverse interests. There is, for example, a courses-only Master of Arts track in biotechnology favored by some pre-med students. But most of those who enroll are attracted to the programs’ strong research focus, which prepares them for doctoral programs or industry, Schell says. Of the eight required credits, students can fulfill three by writing a thesis based on work in a faculty adviser’s lab. On average, each student has co-authored one peer-reviewed publication.
Students are encouraged to cultivate industry relationships while in the programs. In the last few years, Beth Zielinski-Habershaw ScM’93 PhD’98, an MPPB senior lecturer who directs industry outreach, helped to launch six month
paid co-op internships at 11 companies, and Schell and other faculty members have developed many new courses. They also launched a part-time degree for working students. The next development will debut in the fall: a track in biotechnology management for business-minded students.
Eltorai’s current project is a reminder alarm that he hopes will boost patient use compliance of incentive spirometers. Clinical trials begin this summer. He intends to complete his MD and ultimately combine his interests by practicing orthopaedic surgery and directing a medical device development lab.
“These students become an integral part of the research here at Brown,” Schell says. “They put so much work into these research projects and they accomplish a lot. They are building the research enterprise here.”