Colin J.H. Brenan Joins IEEE PULSE as new EIC
Beginning in January 2014, Colin Brenan succeeds Mike Neuman as editor-in-chief (EIC) of IEEE Pulse, and on his agenda are a number of editorial changes designed to increase the magazine’s accessibility and broaden its appeal to a global biomedical engineering audience.
As a serial life science entrepreneur with several successful companies to his credit, new ventures are a way of life for Brenan. Between companies, he was the director of strategic relationships at the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technologies (CIMIT)—a Boston health care innovation consortium—and the managing director of the Monsanto-Atlas Seed Fund Alliance at the venture capital firm Atlas Ventures. He recently started a new company, HiFiBiO BV, with colleagues from Harvard University, the Broad Institute, and ESPCI ParisTech, to commercialize microfluidic droplet and barcode technologies for applications in antibody and epigenetic drug development.
Over the years, Brenan has served the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) in multiple capacities—as the founder of the Boston Chapter, as a multiyear Administrative Committee member, and as cochair with Paolo Bonato of the successful 2011 Engineering in Medicine and Biology Conference in Boston. Bonato, now the vice president of publications for the Society, has high hopes for Brenan’s tenure as EIC. He explained, “We are pleased to have Colin continue the transformation of IEEE Pulse that began under the leadership of Mike Neuman. Our end goal is to broaden the appeal of IEEE Pulse as a means to communicate outside the Society the exciting new developments in biomedical engineering.”
Here, we talk with Brenan about his career, his vision for the future of the magazine, and the inaugural January issue on health care innovation.
IEEE Pulse: What sparked your interest in biomedical engineering?
Colin Brenan (C.B.): I was fascinated by biology when I was young and always thought I’d follow a career in biology. This changed after my first undergraduate biology course at McGill University. It was mostly memorization, which I didn’t find particularly appealing or satisfying. Remember, I did my undergraduate degree in the late seventies and early 1980s when the now commonplace molecular biology tools and concepts were cutting-edge research. Instead, I switched to physics and ended up working for several years after my bachelor’s degree as a research scientist at MPB Technologies in Montreal, where I developed novel laser range-finding systems for military applications. During that time, I earned my master’s degree in electrical engineering in a work-study arrangement with McGill University with a thesis on laser-based approaches to nondestructive testing of materials. This is about as far from biomedical science as you can get.
My introduction to biomedical engineering came through Ian Hunter, who at the time was a professor in biomedical engineering at McGill. I was fascinated with his work in high-performance biorobotic systems and got hooked on the appealing combination of physics, engineering, medicine, and biology. It was then I decided to leave the company and pursue a Ph.D. full time in biomedical engineering with Ian.
IEEE Pulse: What have you gleaned from a career spent translating theoretical research into actual products that solve real-life solutions?
C.B.: Well, I’ve learned many lessons from my entrepreneurial and venture capital activities over the years. By way of reference, I’ve started five companies thus far and successfully exited two. BioTrove we sold to Life Technologies in 2009 and Biocius—a BioTrove spinout—we sold to Agilent in 2011. An important reason for our success is that we focused early on attracting smart, motivated individuals into the company and provided the environment for them to be creative. From this core, we built a high-performance commercialization team that paid us tremendous dividends from this initial investment. A second lesson is not to be infatuated with your own technologies but to focus instead on identifying and finding solutions to a customer problem. Recognizing and acting on these two basic principles is the beginning of a successful enterprise.
IEEE Pulse: What brought you to IEEE Pulse?
C.B.: I see IEEE Pulse as an opportunity to communicate the collective excitement and enthusiasm of the Society for biomedical engineering to a global audience. Biomedical engineering is intrinsically interdisciplinary and different from other engineering disciplines because it has a direct impact on the human condition. With IEEE Pulse, we explore not only biomedical technologies but such varied topics as the process by which these technologies are applied to improve human health; the process by which they are transformed into useful products; the legal, ethical, and social implications of recent advances in biomedical technology; and, even farther afield, more esoteric topics like the synergies between the arts and biomedical engineering. It is at these nontraditional interfaces that new ideas arise.
What also appeals to me is the ability through IEEE Pulse to reach a broader audience beyond EMBS to tell them of the exciting advances in biomedical engineering and explain why they are important. As biomedical engineers, we have to be aware of the implications of our work and be able to communicate to others why what we do is relevant to them as well as to society. This outreach has become particularly acute as national health care systems evolve toward performance-driven reimbursement and cost containment. Biomedical engineers have a major role to play in this new world, and we have to make sure our voice is heard.
IEEE Pulse: What is your vision for the magazine?
C.B.: My goal is to transform IEEE Pulse into the “go-to” magazine for all aspects of biomedical engineering. I want IEEE Pulse to be the first stop if someone is searching for current, thoughtful, and trusted information on the latest developments in engineering, medicine, and biology. The key to our success will be insightful, accurate, expert articles accessible to the technically literate but nonexpert reader. This audience includes our core audience but also groups not historically targeted by EMBS such as health care policy makers, senior management in medical device companies, biomedical entrepreneurs, and investors in biomedical ventures.
Second, I intend to expand and report on biomedical engineering issues and technologies from a global perspective. IEEE Pulse can play a leading and active role to foster, sustain, and expand the global EMBS community by highlighting and reporting on recent biomedical technologies and developments across all regions served by the Society.
Finally, the biggest and most profound change in IEEE Pulse is our move to a monthly Web magazine in combination with our bimonthly print publication. The Web version will be its own interactive dynamic entity that will include features and news not available in print with the intent to attract a wider audience who are partly an online community and prefer accessing news via a tablet or mobile phone. Importantly, we will now publish on a monthly schedule to increase the frequency by which we inform our readers.
IEEE Pulse: Tell us about the January issue: Why focus on the topic of health care innovation?
C.B.: Most countries are challenged by escalating health care costs and are actively seeking innovative solutions to make health care affordable, high quality, and easy to access. The word “innovation” is used often to describe the nature of solutions we seek, but what exactly is innovation and how can it be best applied to solve problems in health care? Generally speaking, innovation in health care seeks to improve the standard of patient care by stimulating and translating an idea into a product or service solving a key patient unmet need. The difficulties we face when attempting to improve ourhealth care systems are driven partially by the needs of multiple participants—from physicians and patients to insurers, regulators, and hospitals. Achieving successful outcomes from implementing a process of innovation in this environment poses a unique set of challenges. The multifaceted nature of health care innovation therefore seemed to me a good topic to begin my conversation with IEEE Pulse readers as EIC, and it is also a theme I intend to return to over subsequent issues.
In this issue, we begin by providing insight into the drivers behind our health care woes globally and then spotlight private and public health care innovation efforts in the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and China that address these problems. We felt that by sharing their methodologies, best practices, and success stories in creating real-world sustainable health care solutions, our readers would have clear examples and deeper insights so as to guide them in their own efforts. Innovation doesn’t stop at identifying possible solutions but extends to new ideas on how to finance the translation of these solutions into useful products and services that ultimately impact standard of care. On that topic, we have a special report on how crowd-sourced financing mechanisms can raise funds for start-up ventures.
Unrelated to health care innovation but more on the lighter side, we have our first annual predictions of what will be “hot” in biomedical engineering for the coming year. Although these are best guesses, it will give us an opportunity to check in throughout the year to see if the IEEE Pulse editorial staff is clairvoyant.
All told, I believe this issue is an exciting mix of articles on innovation in health care as well as exciting new technologies with the potential for making a difference in human health. I hope this inaugural issue will provide inspiration on the roles we as biomedical engineers can play in shaping durable, high-impact solutions to the vexing health care problems we all face.
IEEE Pulse: Any last thoughts?
C.B.: Read IEEE Pulse and tell me what you think! The only way we can make the magazine better is if we hear from you. Also, check out the new IEEE Pulse Website that launches January 2014. The site will not only provide a digital source for content from the bimonthly print magazine but will also showcase new articles every month. Let your friends know about Pulse as well. Remember, we want to be your trusted go-to source for information on what’s new, innovative, and cool in the global biomedical engineering community.