Weldon School and Lilly researchers collaborate on next-generation connected solutions

An expanding research collaboration between Purdue University and Eli Lilly and Company leverages the expertise of faculty at the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering in the area of connected solutions with an eye toward translating laboratory discoveries into life-saving medical devices and therapies that could improve the lives of millions around the world. The connected solutions program area is part of a $52 million five-year strategic collaboration between Lilly and Purdue.

A team led by Chi Hwan Lee, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering, created a novel method for attaching ultrathin sensors and other small devices to commercially available soft contact lenses. The sensors detect the levels of glucose, lactate and pH value, providing information associated with diabetes, hypoxia and underlying ocular tissue health.

“The main goal of the connected solutions program area is to enable patients and clinicians to have access to closed loop systems, governed by parameters both known and sensed using devices to then deliver a therapy all while being as least invasive as possible to a patient in their given way of life,” said Kaethe Beck, director of operations, life sciences, in the Office of Research and Partnerships. Part of Beck’s role at Purdue is to manage the multifaceted Purdue-Lilly partnership to conduct life science research.

Connected solutions projects tap into research conducted by faculty members at the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering in point-of-care diagnostic testing and non-invasive sensing. General practitioners and, increasingly, patients seek effective methodologies that enable them to detect and monitor diseases without pain or inconvenience. These diagnostic methods, including real-time continuous wearable devices, require simple operation, interpretation, and connectivity to other healthcare resources to provide analysis and contribute to effective outcomes.

The ultimate objective is the delivery of patient-specific personalized therapy, titrated in time and space, to achieve optimal efficacy while minimizing side effects and costs—especially in low-resource settings where many people do not have access to laboratory services.

The potential applications for these devices and technologies are numerous and varied, and may include diabetes, HIV, preeclampsia, oncology, neuro-degenerative disease, and inflammation. 

“The concept is to design systems that could impact many therapies,” said Beck. “A scaffold or structure could be added on quickly, delivering faster products and hopefully solutions.”

Pedro Irazoqui, Reilly Professor of Biomedical Engineering, interim head and professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and director of the Center for Implantable Devices is the Purdue lead on the connected solutions program area. Additional Weldon School researchers working on connected solutions include assistant professors Chi Hwan Lee, Tamara Kinzer-Ursem, Hugh Lee, Jacqueline Linnes, and Luis Solorio; and Paul Griffin, professor of biomedical engineering and industrial engineering and director, Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering.  

Another area of the Lilly-Purdue collaboration is injectable biologics. Weldon School faculty members including Solorio, Mike Ladisch, a distinguished professor of biomedical, agricultural and biological engineering, and Pavlos Vlachos, professor of biomedical and mechanic engineering, are researching the delivery of injectable medicines with the goals of reducing pain.

 “We’re thrilled to have partners like Lilly,” said Beck. “When we are successful together it provides a rapid impact in the world—some of these developments will have implications in our lifetimes, in the next few years.”

The Connected Solutions project aligns with Purdue's giant leaps celebration, acknowledging the university’s global advancements made in health, space, artificial intelligence and sustainability as part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary. Those are the four themes of the yearlong celebration’s Ideas Festival, designed to showcase Purdue as an intellectual center solving real-world issues.