Faculty voice:

Chris Contag: Revolutionizing health care

Chris Contag is the chairperson of MSU’s new Department of Biomedical Engineering and is the director of MSU’s Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering. Learn more about IQ in the feature, Brave new medical discoveries.

The following is an excerpt from WKAR's podcast with Chris Contag.

The leadership at MSU put this concept together some years ago, talking about how to bridge disciplines and how to bring people together. I was asked to develop a program where the colleges of Natural Science, Engineering and Human Medicine and multiple different departments converge on really important topics in biomedical research. We continue to work on areas where there is convergence between medicine and engineering, solving some of the most pressing problems in medicine with engineering solutions.

We’ve recruited a group of faculty that are really interdisciplinary in their own right, but also work with other faculty to really push the envelope of biomedical research. Some of the new things happening are rapid diagnostics for infectious diseases, rapid diagnostics for multiple sclerosis and diabetes.

We have some really amazing work looking at how to control cellular function — how to control a cell from a distance. Applications for that would be controlling how dopaneurgic neurons in Parkinson’s patients release dopamine to try to treat the disease using external signals — some really amazing innovations that are stretching across disciplines.

The project on Parkinson’s is particularly interesting because it uses a protein that was cloned out of a fish that senses magnetic fields. This is the perfect example of how fields can converge to solve problems. The group of faculty working on this project, including Asaf Gilad and Gallit Pelled, are using this magnetic sensing protein to control neuronal function or to control how heart cells function. And to be able to do it from a distance, so that you can better manage how a cell participates in the healing process as opposed to being a problem in a particular disease.

The approach we’ve taken in IQ is to break the problem down to its simplest parts and to try to solve it with the simplest solution. And by doing that, we’ve come up with some really interesting approaches to how to treat disease, how to diagnose disease and how to have the most benefit for people that are suffering from diseases including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s — some of the most pressing problems facing humanity today from a health perspective and looking at the fundamental principles that can be addressed using new approaches and integrating disciplines.

Listen to the entire podcast here.