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Pathways to Medical Device Innovation: Exploring Collaboration Between Interventional Radiologists and Biomedical Engineers


Multidisciplinary collaboration between innovators in two seemingly disparate fields have led to significant advances.

Much of the modern technology used in interventional radiology has been developed by biomedical engineers. For example, in 2018, researchers used bioprinting and microfabrication techniques to develop novel in vitro vascular models to help interventional radiologists study complex vascular procedures.1

Biomedical engineers are trained in the principles of physics and mathematical computation for the development of safe and effective medical devices that best fit the needs of medical providers and patients. Medical students, residents, fellows, and attending physicians generally have very little exposure, if any, to these principles during their respective curricula and training.

Conversely, biomedical engineers generally do not interface directly with patients to the same extent as physicians and medical trainees. Therefore, they may not fully understand the specific needs of patients in the same way that medical professionals do. For these reasons, it is important for interventional radiologists and biomedical engineers to collaborate closely to develop medical technology that is optimally designed to meet patient needs and maximize health outcomes.

Many biotechnology companies that specialize in the development of radiological devices were founded through the collaboration of both engineers and physicians. The epitome of this symbiotic relationship is the evolution of Cook Medical, Inc., in the 1960s. This company was founded by William Cook, an entrepreneur, who partnered with Charles Dotter, MD, the father of interventional medicine. They collaborated to create new devices needed by the medical community for minimally invasive procedures, including angioplasty and the earliest interventional radiology techniques.2

Renerva is another company that was founded by biomedical engineers for the purpose of helping medical professionals. Renerva developed a product known as peripheral nerve matrix, which is an implantable modality physicians may employ to help improve the outcomes of procedures for treating peripheral nerve injuries.3 Due to the variation between peripheral nerve reconstruction techniques among surgical specialties, it was important for physicians to consider with engineers how the product should be used to help ensure maximal recovery for patients.3

Interventional radiologists can gain a deeper understanding of how engineers develop new medical technology by consulting in or even leading biotechnology companies. Radiologists can explain and demonstrate to engineers how they use their medical devices in the clinical or hospital setting. Radiologists may also conduct translational and clinical research on bioengineered technology to further understand how to optimize the outcomes and safety of novel technology for specific applications, such as treating specific diseases or training residents and fellows to perform procedures.

To develop better medical devices, it is necessary for biomedical engineers to more fully understand how radiologists utilize technology in practice. Interventionalists can help engineers identify unmet clinical needs that serve as the basis for the generation of new ideas for medical devices. Therefore, engineers can further benefit from observing interventional radiologists in the clinical setting to gain a clearer understanding of how their devices are used in real time and where certain pitfalls or inconveniences can occur during use of each device.

Moreover, it is well established in the literature that 3D printing has been frequently utilized in interventional radiology to help with training and guidance for various procedures. For instance, researchers have developed 3D-printed patient-specific models of temporal bones designed to prepare surgeons for performing middle cranial fossa surgery.4,5 In addition to its role in pre-procedure planning, 3D printing has also been used in the training of interventionalists and in patient education. 3D printing is a prime example of the application of biomedical engineering to improvement of patient outcomes in interventional radiology. The overall success of 3D printing in interventional radiology thus far shows that the seamless integration of engineering into the practice of radiology is imperative for improved patient care in the future.

The skill sets of biomedical engineers and interventional radiologists are different but overlap in important ways regarding patient care. Interdisciplinary teams consisting of medical professionals from multiple specialties have been vital in the continuity of care for many decades. This concept of multidisciplinary teamwork can easily be applied to the collaboration between engineers and radiologists in creating better medical devices to address the evolving needs of patients and their providers. The bridge between engineering and radiology is important for the overall improvement of outcomes and safety for patients undergoing innovative minimally invasive, image-guided interventions.


1. Li X, Moosavi-Basri SM, Sheth R, Wang X, Zhang YS. Bioengineered in vitro vascular models for applications in interventional radiology. Curr Pharm Des. 2018;24(45):5367-5374.

2. Turner T. Cook Medical. Drugwatch. Available at: https://www.drugwatch.com/manufacturers/cook-medical/ . Accessed December 30, 2021.

3. Yeomans M. Pitt startup hits a nerve for new CEO. University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute. Available at: https://www.innovation.pitt.edu/2017/11/renerva/ . Published November 22, 2017. Accessed December 30, 2021.

4. Freiser ME, Ghodadra A, Hirsch BE, McCall AA. Evaluation of 3D printed temporal bone models in preparation for middle cranial fossa surgery. Otol Neurotol. 2018;40(2):246-253.

5. Freiser ME, Ghodadra A, McCall AA, Shaffer AD, Magnetta M, Jabbour N. Operable, low-cost, high-resolution, patient-specific 3D printed temporal bones for surgical simulation and evaluation. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2021;130(9):1044-1051.

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