Professors drive private profit and health-care improvements.

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This region is a hot spot for the biomedical innovation that could revolutionize health care in the near future, and a key to that is the relationship between university researchers and the private sector.

The University of Washington Department of Bioengineering is trying to tend that relationship, through a Bioengineering Affiliates Program, directed by Charles McLien III.

The public sector can be a businessman’s best friend, feeding established businesses new discoveries and nurturing young entrepreneurs. University researchers get to see their work put to practical use, and the institution gets royalty payments and esteem (and more grants).

At an open house Tuesday, business and nonprofit leaders, UW researchers and students talked about the intersections of their work and what it means for health care.

Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine, said in his keynote speech that this is a critical time for the U.S. health-care system, which is under pressure to improve care and cut costs.

Ramsey mentioned the new report from the independent Institute of Medicine that the U.S. health-care system wastes about $750 billion a year.

Better practices and treatments can help improve that, but only if the system will adapt.

Ramsey told the story of the Hungarian physician who discovered the benefits of hand-washing 150 years ago but couldn’t persuade colleagues to clean their hands. Even today, Ramsey said, 50 percent of doctors don’t wash before seeing a patient. At UW facilities nearly 100 percent do.

Ramsey also said a new treatment can take 15 to 20 years to move from lab to practice, from discovery to drug.

That has to happen faster. He said 15 days would be a good target. And he said medicine needs to move more of its focus from diagnosis and treatment to prevention.

Heart disease, he said as an example, is costly to treat, and the ultimate treatments, transplants or replacement with an artificial heart are extremely expensive.

Prevention makes more sense, and Ramsey said stem-cell therapy offers the potential for more cost-effective intervention, which brings us back to research and the relationship between academia and business.

In the 1960s, the UW was a pioneer of Doppler ultrasound imaging for diagnosing vascular disease; it became a commercial success. Moving ultrasound beyond imaging to therapy was a common theme Tuesday.

Lawrence Crum, a UW physicist, is investigating using ultrasound to manipulate kidney stones. He’s also founder and president of Ultrasound Technologies.

High-intensity focused ultrasound for bloodless surgery, which could be less expensive and less traumatic, is being explored in a number of areas.

Jay Rubinstein, a neurotologic surgeon, is developing a device that can be implanted in the ear to treat balance disorders, some of which have no remedy.

People from industry and nonprofits talked about their work too, partly to give bioengineering students a sense of what opportunities await them.

Representatives from Philips Ultra Sound, PATH, Amgen, and Physio-Control all spoke at one afternoon session for students.

Students had their own work on display.

Leslie Cornaby, a senior from Lake Forest Park, said, “My mother always told me, you have skills and you can use them to help people.” This is her way of doing that.

Yayun Chen, a senior, heard about the UW program in high school in Shanghai. “I’m a more mathematical person, but I still like medicine.” Bioengineering allows her to combine the two.

Having a pool of trained talent benefits local businesses, and having more local options benefits the students.

In the university’s collaboration with the private sector there are plenty of benefits to go around if the ties are managed well.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or