MCIRCC’s objective is to transform critical care through innovation, integration, and entrepreneurship. But what does that mean and how is it being done? 

The MCIRCC Pre-Clinical Operative and Intensive Care Unit was created in February 2013 to embody this objective and has made great strides in high-risk, high-reward pursuits.

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Dr. Kevin Ward, Director of MCIRCC, and Dr. Hakam Tiba, Core Director, joined U-M in July 2012 and recognized the need for a state-of-the-art research lab for critical care disease pre-clinical modeling. Together they founded the lab which has since grown to a multi-grant supported operation. Starting with three members operating one internally-funded experimental protocol, the lab now supports seven full-time employees who are currently working on eight funded projects. The staff and collaborators are highly qualified and trained individuals that range from clinicians, engineers, doctoral researchers, veterinarians, veterinarian residents and technicians as well as laboratory research technicians. Several of the unit members who oversee this effort serve on the U-M IACUC and other institutional committees related to animal care and use.  

The lab’s growth has allowed for a unique and collaborative model to take shape. While most research labs typically have one area of focus such as diabetes or breast cancer, many different critical care scenarios are modeled in the Critical Care Lab including traumatic hemorrhage, cardiac arrest, traumatic brain injury, sepsis, and acute respiratory distress syndrome. “The Critical Care Lab is unique in that it is an independent research laboratory but also serves as a collaborative core that focuses on many different aspects of critical care and disease,” said Dr. Tiba. Scientists and researchers from different disciplines are able to come together to collectively find solutions using their individual expertise. “The research discoveries made would likely not have happened without access to the resources available in the lab,” said Dr. Tiba. “It [The Lab] is equipped with high resolution physiologic and metabolic monitoring and analytic equipment providing for unique “physiomic” monitoring, tissue banking and analysis for pre-clinical research,” said Dr. Ward.

“It’s not just advantageous, it’s necessary,” said Brendan McCracken, Core Assistant Director who oversees lab operations and supervises lab personnel. “Studying disease is complicated. Out in the field, in the emergency room, OR, or ICU, critical illness and injury present as very heterogeneous entities and cannot be studied longitudinally with granular data collection from human patients. In the lab we are studying in a controlled environment, which is necessary for high fidelity data collection.”

The Pre-Clinical Operative and Intensive Care Unit works closely and in tandem with MCIRCC’s other units, such as the Clinical Research Unit, where some protocol might call for both pre-clinical and clinical testing in the hope to accelerate translation of research ideas. In addition, the unit is supported by the Proposal Development, Data Analytics, and Commercialization units where protocols get processed and submitted, and data is analyzed and presented to interested industry partners for commercialization when suitable.  

While the lab hasn’t been around for long, it has already made an impact in critical care.  It’s proven to be a hub for innovation that has brought together a variety of disciplines resulting in products making their way to the bedside. The included “Utilizing the MCIRCC Machine” graphic shows how the lab and other areas of MCIRCC collaborate to move a product from idea to licensing.  

“The lab has accomplished the purpose it was designed for, which is to lower the energy barrier for high-risk, high-reward team science” said Dr. Ward. The core is utilized by more than 50 faculty members from four U-M schools/colleges and has been integral to the awarding of over $12 million in federal (NIH, NSF, DoD) and internal innovation (Coulter, MTRAC, Massey Foundation) funds. It has been essential in the development and testing of over 12 technologies that are patent pending with several licensed to industry or the focus of new start-up companies.

“If all of the work we do can save the life of one person or their loved one, it’s worth it,” said McCracken.