Medicine-Engineering. To combine knowledge on health, wellbeing and life quality with the most innovative digital technologies. Thanks to an agreement between Humanitas University and Milan Polytechnic, a new degree course has been launched in Milan to train the doctor-engineers of the future. And once again the city consolidates its reputation as the ideal place for original combinations of sciences with other disciplines, for a “new humanism” that develops innovative new areas of knowledge. “Medical and technological research is converging all over the world. Big data, artificial intelligence, biomaterials, machine learning. Italy can afford to be ambitious if there is a joint effort between universities, research centres, businesses and public and private authorities,” explains Gianfelice Rocca, a man of science and economics, chairman of Techint and Humanitas and former chairman of Assolombarda (Corriere della Sera, 6 June).
The upshot of this is Medtech School, a degree in Medicine and, at the same time, Biomedical Engineering. A six-year programme for 50 students selected from international applicants (entrance test on 6 September) with courses in English, classes and lab work at both Humanitas (where the hospital departments are available) and the Polytechnic. Its ambition? To become an innovative trailblazer for other similar courses across the world. “Effective, personalised and sustainable healthcare,” comment Marco Montorsi, surgeon and rector of Humanitas University, and Ferruccio Resta, engineer and rector of the Polytechnic (Il Sole24Ore, 6 June). They explain: “Precision medicine, nanotechnologies, robotics, artificial intelligence and big data will become an increasingly day-to-day part of the lives of future doctors and this must be reflected in their training, so we can enrich the country with the knowledge and expertise that our graduates need in order to grow.” Rocca continues: “It is a cultural change. Technology serves to give doctors more time to take their eyes off the patient and look at them more thoroughly. And the life sciences sector is destined to become even more decisive in ageing economies. In the US it represents 20% of the economy and accounts for 30-40% of research. A profoundly social sector. With communities that compete to achieve excellence and blaze a trail for their regions.”
The major pharmaceutical companies are getting involved in the life sciences sector. But so too are Google, Apple and IBM. Business logic is being combined with the social logic of “taking care” of ageing people, the vulnerable (the sick), and the families affected by the suffering of their nearest and dearest. Europe and Italy have a long tradition in the area of welfare. And this profound culture of solidarity and assistance, this public mission, must be carefully supported also with the help of new technologies. In short: improved welfare thanks to hi-tech expertise. A “public” mission – it is worth adding – which is strengthened thanks to collaboration between public entities and private enterprises. There are plenty of virtuous examples from the healthcare sector in Milan and Lombardy (but also in Emilia) which can act as benchmarks at both national and European level. Rocca explains: “In terms of innovation, the results are positive: of the top ten research centres in Italy, seven are in Milan and all of these figure among the top 5% worldwide. We now have a joint responsibility to drive this cluster of life sciences forward.” Is Milan the new Boston? “Boston is in the top 2% worldwide. But we can grow.” How? By continuing to attract resources, talent and expertise. By getting the academic world, industry, the state and regions which invest large amounts of the public budget in healthcare and insurance to work together. And by involving patients and their families.
Montorsi and Resta add: “Medtech School is designed for young men and women who want to be doctors who are capable of managing the development of innovation in medicine, doctors who are able to fully exploit the new technologies, understand their mechanisms, govern the processes for modifying and improving them, place them at the service of healthcare professionals and provide patients with even closer assistance.” But this isn’t all that’s on the horizon: “We will see the creation of a new professional figure dedicated to businesses and industrial sectors that operate in the area of devices and biomedical technologies or in the pharmaceutical sector; to government healthcare institutions; to research centres, where medical and engineering expertise will be the springboard for amazing possibilities in terms of innovation and new results.” It is a complex challenge. Technological, entrepreneurial, educational and social in nature. And therefore also political and cultural. Italy and Milan have much to contribute, also at a European level.