HCN News & Notes

Institute for Applied Life Sciences Enters New Era of Industry Relationships

AMHERST — In addition to directing the Human Testing Center at UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), Michael Busa is managing the new class of research relationships emerging for the state’s largest public university campus, with corporate partners in biotech and healthcare.

“It’s a new world for research academics,” said Busa, “because, even though we are a public university, when companies come to us looking for research support, they want to retain their intellectual property. There are new rules, and we now have an example of successfully navigating those new rules and relationships.”

He is referring to a recent collaboration with Novartis that will see IALS researchers use the Human Testing Center’s living-science, sleep-monitoring, human-motion, and other facilities to evaluate behavior- and movement-monitoring technologies now in development. He says it is the first of what he expects to be many “big collaborations” between IALS and biotech and healthcare firms.

Specifically for the Novartis collaboration, IALS researchers will assess the validity of a Novartis device in capturing detailed aspects of human motion and behavior such as walking, balance, and sleep. Busa, who has a Ph.D. in kinesiology and training in mechanical engineering, exercise physiology, biomechanics, and physical activity, will work with kinesiologists Katherine Boyer, John Sirard, and Stuart Chipkin; neuroscientist and sleep expert Rebecca Spencer; and 10 supporting students and staff. 

“What we offer companies like Novartis are things like expertise in areas such as study design and ways to evaluate new technologies,” Busa said. “We also go beyond consultation in that we can carry out world-class data collection and analytics, all while working hand-in-hand with businesses.”

He added that “we are not a medical school, but we can contribute expertise in a big way to the development of cutting-edge technologies that provide insight into movement and behavioral health beyond the walls of a clinic. We are really well-positioned to attract and retain this type of project. This project has real-world time-lines, and we’re going to apply academic-level rigor to real-world problems. In my mind, that is going to yield robust solutions. We’ve developed a dynamic working relationship in which UMass investigators can help Novartis solve real-world problems. Now that the word is getting out, I’m looking forward to working with other customers to show how IALS can contribute to new the development and evaluation of technologies that can have board benefit to people’s lives and health.”