Valuing collaborative efforts in making breakthroughs
The heartbeat is the rhythm of life. For Dr. Peng-Sheng Chen, it's also his life's passion.
Chen has been at the IU School of Medicine since 2007. He is the Medtronic Zipes Chair in Cardiology, director of the Krannert Institute of Cardiology, and chief of the Division of Cardiology in the Department of Medicine. He decided at age 17 that he wanted to attend medical school, where he developed his interest in cardiology.
"I was very fortunate to handpick an outstanding mentor in medical school," he said. "I became fascinated by the electrocardiogram and electrical recording of the heart."
Chen developed his interest in inventing after he received training in a cardiology fellowship and realized the importance of making discoveries to improve clinical medicine. He is co-founder of Arrhythmotech LLC, but some of his discoveries that have had the most direct impact on people's lives haven't been patented.
"I discovered a source of atrial fibrillation originating from a structure in the heart called the ligament of Marshall," he said. "That structure is now subject to atrial fibrillation ablation when the physician is trying to cure the arrhythmia, which can cause stroke or death. I was also co-discoverer of the method of atrial flutter ablation. These discoveries help doctors cure the arrhythmias in some of their patients. They can increase the quality of life."
Chen noted that discoveries that lead to breakthroughs in patient care require collaboration between those who conduct clinical research and those who do basic science.
"Research to improve the current therapy is conducted through patient-based research," he explained. "This is usually done by clinicians. Other laboratory research is not aimed at directly improving the patient's life, but at making breakthroughs that can eventually lead to better diagnosis or therapy. That research is often conducted by basic scientists. There has to be a collaboration between the basic scientists and the clinicians to get things discovered in a laboratory and make them useful to patients."
Discovery is only part of the process of bringing a breakthrough to the public. Chen noted the importance of IU researchers contacting the Indiana University Research and Technology Corp. before making a public announcement or publishing findings in a journal. After a public disclosure, the ability to obtain meaningful patent protection to enable commercialization could be impaired. And without broad patent protection, commercial partners often lack incentive, meaning potentially valuable inventions might never make it to the commercial market.
"Contact starts with disclosure of the invention to IURTC," Chen said. "IURTC technology managers will do a patent search and decide whether to patent the invention. The process requires collaboration between the IURTC staff members and the inventor. For me, the collaboration has been very good, especially with Jennifer Finefield, the senior technology manager."
Chen said the activity of discovery and invention depends on the focus of faculty members.
"Certainly a lot of faculty members are primarily interested in taking care of the patient," he said. "I don't think there are a lot of disclosures being made for breakthrough discoveries. On the other hand, the people who have some more time and dedication to research continue to make discoveries."
Among the inventors he most admires, Chen said, are those working in his own field of cardiac arrhythmia.
"We have dramatically improved patient care through multiple inventions by various inventors," he said. "All of these inventions have many inventors and people who made critical discoveries to bring them into clinical practice. The earliest I admire is the invention of the pacemaker, which was followed by the invention of the implantable cardioverter defibrillator. That was followed by the invention of radiofrequency catheter ablation, which was followed by cardiac resynchronization therapy. Recently, there have been further improvements in all of these techniques. Through my career of 30-some years taking care of patients with heart arrhythmia, those inventions have made great differences to the patients' well-being and survival."