Engineering collaborations between UMMS and WPI

Luncheon highlights existing multidisciplinary projects and new program matching WPI students with UMMS faculty

By Michael Cohen

UMass Medical School Communications

February 24, 2012
Douglas Golenbock, MD, and Pamela Weathers, PhD, from WPI, discussed their ongoing work to develop a new therapy for malaria at a recent luncheon on WPI-UMMS collaborations.

Nearly 50 faculty members from Worcester Polytechnic Institute joined a similar number of faculty from UMass Medical School for a first-of-its kind luncheon and networking session on Monday, Feb. 13, to promote collaboration between the two institutions.

Leadership at both campuses organized the event so that researchers could meet face-to-face and explore how they could work together to address unmet clinical needs, especially given the accelerating pace of biological discoveries and development of enabling technologies.

“This is very fertile ground. It’s where the leading edge of discovery occurs,” said Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor of Medicine, executive deputy chancellor, provost, dean of the School of Medicine and professor of pediatrics. “I’m very pleased with the turn out here today. The links between our two campuses are continuing, and we hope will grow in new ways.”

There have been several significant collaborations between WPI and UMMS in recent years. Current projects include a range of studies on wound healing and tissue regeneration; fungal infection drug development; and a smartphone-based application to monitor for atrial fibrillation.

At the luncheon, two teams presented updates on their current work to show how multidisciplinary teams from WPI and UMMS have coalesced around clinical needs. David M. Harlan, MD, the William and Doris Krupp Professor in Medicine, professor of medicine and director of the UMass Memorial Diabetes Center of Excellence, and Diane Strong, PhD, professor of business at WPI and a co-founder of the school’s Healthcare Delivery Institute, discussed their joint effort to develop a smartphone-based application to help people with diabetes better manage their disease.

Douglas Golenbock, MD, professor of medicine and microbiology & physiological systems and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, and Pamela Weathers, PhD, professor of biology and biotechnology at WPI, discussed their ongoing work to develop a new therapy for malaria using the plant Artemisia annua.

“Sometimes it’s a simple idea that bears a lot of fruit,” said Karen Kashmanian Oates, PhD, the Peterson Family Dean of Arts and Sciences at WPI. “We organized this event to bring people together, to share ideas, to engage in conversations and see where that leads. These projects are great examples of how we can work together to make progress.”

At the luncheon, Dean Oates also announced the creation of a new program to match WPI students with UMMS faculty to work on research projects. At WPI, students must complete a Master Qualifying Project (MQP) in their field as a requirement for graduation. The MQP is typically done in the senior year and is a significant, thesis-based project. To facilitate more MQP work in UMMS labs, the schools are launching a web-portal to match students with faculty around specific areas of interest. To learn more about the MQP project model and the new portal, faculty are urged to contact Destin Heilman, PhD, the program coordinator at WPI at