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Creating public health solutions with public and private sectors

"We're doing something that is unusual, unprecedented, and tricky." quote from Gary Cohen

Creating public health solutions with public and private sectors.

idea hub connects SPH with private industry to empower research and turn ideas into reality

The past year’s complex, unprecedented, and inter- connected public health challenges have underscored the need for bold ideas and innovative health solutions that can ensure a healthier future for all populations.

The School of Public Health idea hub is helming the critical endeavor of turning novel ideas into transformative and sustainable health solutions. Formed in late 2019, the school-wide initiative fosters collaboration between SPH researchers and public and private industries to help inform and develop forward-thinking health products and services.

“idea hub connects faculty and students with private industry to accelerate the adoption of health innovations that improve population health, contributing to SPH’s leadership position in public health,” says Craig Ross, executive director of idea hub and research assistant professor of epidemiology.

Vanessa Edouard, managing director of idea hub and director of strategic initiatives at SPH, says that the initiative “provides faculty and students with new and exciting opportunities to expand their work, take their research in new directions, work with people and organizations outside of academia, and gain access to additional data and resources.”

Through strategic partnerships with industry, government, and nonprofit organizations, SPH community members offer resources and expertise in collaborative research, workforce training, program evaluation, data-informed decision making, product validation of new technology, and much more.

“We’re doing something that is unusual, unprecedented, and tricky,” says alum Gary Cohen (SPH’06), chair of idea hub’s Advisory Board and co-founder, president, and chief operating officer of Humatics Corporation. “At the heart of idea hub’s mission, we’re asking this: can entrepreneurship and the for-profit motive be harmonized with more traditional public health values and priorities?”

According to Michael McClean, associate dean for research and faculty advancement and professor of environmental health, this effort also advances the school’s mission in ways that might not otherwise be possible.

“New relationships with less traditional funders will increase our ability to conduct innovative research, and have a greater impact on population health,” he says.

Trish Elliott, clinical assistant professor of community health sciences, is pursuing collaborations with organizations that focus on health and wellness and behavioral health among college students. With the help of SPH doctoral students, one potential project would gain insight into whether at-home testing kits and online risk assessments for sexually transmitted infections (STI) could ease barriers to STI screening and treatment among students.

“idea hub expands networking opportunities for students as they engage with different types of supporters through school-supported projects,” says Elliott. “We’re also connecting organizations to future employees that have a skill set and training in public health that can be beneficial to the corporations in ways they haven’t fully conceptualized yet, and that’s really exciting.”

Second-year MPH student Mark Hernandez is determined to bridge the gap between public health and technology through engagement with idea hub and his fellowship at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. In his MIT role, Hernandez helps inform technology-driven projects around the public health impacts of disasters, as well as COVID-19 modeling. He says idea hub has been an invaluable resource to him throughout his MPH program, serving as a sounding board for his ideas. He recently approached idea hub with initial conversations around a COVID-19 vulnerability mapping tool, which came to fruition through a team project in a class with Patricia Fabian, associate professor of environmental health.

“The folks at idea hub have been incredibly open and accessible,” says Hernandez. “They have really helped me envision how certain research ideas could translate to sustainable products in the real world. But above all, I appreciate that idea hub’s approach to innovation centers the school’s core value of health equity.”

This article was originally posted in SPH This Year 2020

Check out our other idea hub article featured in SPH This Year: idea hub to impact healthcare innovation

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