Mark Palmer is a distinguished scientist in the Core Technologies Group within corporate strategic scientific operations at Medtronic, plc. There he leads a team of advanced modeling and simulation consultants, manages external collaborations, and leads the strategy and platform technologies for realistic human simulation. He's active on various ASME advisory boards and is part of the NAFEMS Business Impact Working Group.
I spoke to Mark about his background, his perspective on simulation in the medical device industry, and the importance of organisations such as NAFEMS to the engineering analysis community.
Your background is in mechanical engineering, having studied aerospace engineering initially before making the move into biomedical. That's a really interesting path. How did you get to where you are today? And what was it that interested you about the biomedical side of things?
Some of the audience members may be too young to connect with this reference, but back when I was in grade school, there was a program on TV called The Six Million Dollar Man. And it was about an astronaut, a test pilot names Steve Austin, that was injured in a plane crash. He was treated with two bionic legs, a bionic arm, a bionic eye, and became a secret agent. While my peers all wanted to be Steve Austin, this test pilot turned secret agent, I wanted to be Dr Rudy Wells, the medical scientist that rebuilt him and was responsible for all the technology that went into his body!
Excellent! I'm more of a ‘Fall Guy’ man, I think that was Lee Major’s next role actually, if I remember rightly! It’s great to hear about the seeds of your career being planted so early on.
This is a rapidly evolving area. You were recently named a Medtronic Technical Fellow for your outstanding contributions, how have you seen modeling and simulation progress in the medical device industry and in health care in general over the past few years?
It’s been very exciting to see. There have been changes all across the ecosystem for medical devices and health care. And what do I mean by that? I'm talking about the relationship between the vendors of the simulation tools, the medical device companies, as the end users of those tools, and the regulatory bodies, as the customers for those simulation results. Seeing all of these different components of the ecosystem come together, and really work together, to advance the regulatory science around modeling and simulation, and creating those standards has been really great. They have really paved the way for increased adoption and more confidence in the use and application of modeling.
We're also seeing in health care and in the clinics different clinical teams creating these modeling and simulation teams within the hospitals and applying these techniques to inform their practice of medicine, that also is another exciting progression that we're seeing.
How important are conferences like the NAFEMS World Congress to industry in general, do you think?
Hopefully I'm not an outlier in this perspective, but they are hugely important. Speaking as Mark and not for Medtronic, I think that the easy problems have been solved, the ones that we can tackle in our silos, those easy problems have been addressed. The exciting new developments are going to be at this interface between disciplines and at the interface between industries. So, conferences like this are important for us to meet together with our counterparts around areas of common interest and create interactions that allow us to envision the solutions to these problems, and envision a brighter future for each of our areas of practice. They are a great opportunity for getting the right partnerships in place and up and running.
I know that your big passions are in advancing human simulation and virtual patient technologies as well as digital evidence standards. From your perspective, where is simulation heading in the biomedical world? What's the next big thing?
What's been really exciting to see, because of the groundwork that has been laid, and I attribute a lot of this to the pioneering work that was done by NASA and the aerospace industry, is the risk informed framework for the use of modeling and predictive analytics, that really has accelerated the use of modeling and simulation in medical devices and in health care.
As these devices and their ecosystems grow in number and interconnectedness, the next goal of the digital twin, or in the language of healthcare, the next stage in personalized medicine, is within sight. I think that the convergence of these technologies is really going to lead to the evolution of personalized medicine, it's really bringing it into sharp focus and giving us something to aim for.
You're part of several ASME committees as well as the NAFEMS Business Impact Working Group. How do you think that these boards and groups contribute to the advancement of techniques and standards for simulation in general?
That's an excellent question. When I joined NAFEMS, I thought that the problems that we were experiencing in our industry were unique to us. Participating in these committees has allowed me to rub shoulders with, interact, and connect with thought leaders from other industries in the domains of modeling and simulation. Hearing everyone's stories about how they wrestle with the same challenges within their industries or within their companies and how they've been able to capitalize on the opportunities available has been really insightful.
Also, these committees are so instrumental in creating those artefacts that all of us can then use to become powerful agents of change either within our companies or for our industry. That's where I see the biggest value.
Medtronic have been NAFEMS members for a number of years now. Why do you think it's important for organizations like yours to be members of NAFEMS?
I really see NAFEMS as this huge repository of information. Not just the things that NAFEMS publishes, but also what exists in the minds of the other members. I know that together with the practitioners in my organization and in my company, we've been able to take advantage of the publications and the interpersonal interactions to really accelerate the work that we've been trying to do and to leverage those resources to really drive engineering excellence in our company.
It’s twofold for us, because it's about engineering high quality products and also having these products used in so many patients. So, we're doubly appreciative of the resources that NAFEMS provides.