Staff Services Student Enterprise

Developing partnerships: PhD students and Canon Medical

20 Oct 2021

Through a close dialogue with Canon Medical Research Europe, facilitated by Edinburgh Innovations, PhD students embarked on an interdisciplinary research project to develop innovative solutions to key future healthcare problems.

Dr Fumi Kitagawa explains how the University of Edinburgh Business School has worked in partnership to develop entrepreneurial graduates

We are actively engaging in preparing our students for an uncertain and complex world through both teaching and research. Developing entrepreneurial graduates is of value, regardless of discipline, as it will enable our graduates to have a positive impact – creating economic, social, cultural, environmental values, or a mixture of each.

For the past seven years, the Business School has worked in partnership with the Schools of Chemistry and Engineering, Edinburgh Medical School and the University of Strathclyde, to form The EPSRC and MRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Optical Medical Imaging (OPTIMA).

OPTIMA CDT aims to train interdisciplinary researchers in optical technologies to address key clinical questions. OPTIMA students undertake an integrated study programme in healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship.

In the spring of 2020, at the start of the first wave of lockdown due to the COVID-19, we co-designed a new Student-led Individually Created Course (SLICC), in close collaboration with Canon Medical Research Europe, facilitated by Edinburgh Innovations. Through a close dialogue with the industry partner, a cohort of OPTIMA PhD students embarked on an interdisciplinary research project to develop innovative solutions to key future healthcare problems. We addressed the following questions:

  • How can we apply healthcare technology during the pandemic with limited interactions with real patients?
  • Can we incorporate understanding patients’ needs and clinician perspectives by bridging the gap between researchers and industry?

The SLICC framework helped students own and co-create their learning experience with our partner, Canon Medical, which led to a deeper student engagement drawing on their own research expertise. Eight students worked in pairs to co-develop their projects with Canon Medical. The four projects focused on clinical pathways including; cancers, Parkinson’s disease, and Multiple Sclerosis. It built on the existing innovation and entrepreneurship curriculum of OPTIMA with students drawing on their learning from earlier courses such as Translational Studies – Innovation & Entrepreneurship Masterclass.

During the lockdown over the spring and summer in 2020, the SLICC projects were developed and delivered virtually through the exchange between the PhD student teams and the team from the industry partner. The work inspired the PhD students to bring new ideas out of the university into clinical practice, aligning with the industry partner’s business goals. For the industry partner, the collaboration enabled the engagement with a group of diverse and multidisciplinary PhD students, who enthusiastically combined their research interests with the needs of patients, families and medical professionals. The collaboration between Canon Medical and OPTIMA created new value during the lockdown that would not have happened otherwise.

Ken Sutherland, President, Canon Medical Research Europe said, "As a technology company working in Healthcare, Canon Medical are always thinking about how technological innovation can have a positive impact on future healthcare delivery. Working with the PhD students has been great and through this collaboration, we’ve been able to explore some clinical areas that we’ve not previously considered.

The students brought their own knowledge and perspectives to each of the projects and provided us with some really useful ideas that we’ve now shared with our parent company in Japan. We’d be very keen to repeat this style of project in the future and to maintain links with this current group of students in the future”

Read more about the Canon SLICC case study.

The students’ learning experiences were transformative in nature, individually and collectively and the SLICC mechanism combined with the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF) empowered the students to recognise their own experiential learning with respect to developing as a researcher. Our work shows that the SLICC format can be flexible and agile, providing a fully online mode of learning with external partners. The PhD students demonstrated that they were capable of addressing complex problems by collaborating with the industry partner and responding to their needs. The framework we developed could be adapted to look at evaluating work placements, capstone projects and students’ consultancy projects in many other settings.

Dr Fumi Kitagawa on behalf of the OPTIMA team
Photo courtesy: Michael Hughes/MAVERICK