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January 14, 2020

WPI marks opening of new $17M PracticePoint facility

Photo | Grant Welker Greg Fischer, the director of Worcester Polytechnic Institute's PracticePoint, describes the facility's mock operating room at an opening event Tuesday.

Healthcare technology researchers have a new place to fail, in the words of Worcester Polytechnic Institute President Laurie Leshin.

Researchers don't want to fail, of course, but it's unavoidable in the research world, when it can take an uncountable number of tries to have a breakthrough. WPI's new healthcare research facility, PracticePoint, offers a place for researchers to fail and start over when they need to.

"You need places to do that," Leshin said, marking the opening of PracticePoint on Tuesday. "You need places where great ideas can be tested."

PracticePoint, located at Worcester's Gateway Park, is outfitted with whatever researchers from the university or corporate partners will need to test their products.

The facility has an MRI, a mock operating room, and two intensive care units, one for adults and another for infants. A 3D printer can quickly create carbon fiber or metal equipment, and an electronics fabrication shop is on hand for any needed tweaks.

Photo | Grant Welker
Worcester Polytechnic Institute President Laurie Leshin at Tuesday's opening of the PracticePoint facility

Researchers and students at WPI have access to the facility, as do corporate members, which include GE Life Sciences, Boston Scientific Corp. and MITRE Corp, among others.

Ron Lancaster, a director of corporate research for Marlborough-based Boston Scientific, called the Worcester site far easier for Boston Scientific researchers to access than, say, one in Boston.

"Tell me I have a 9 a.m. appointment in the Seaport, and it ruins my week," he said.

PracticePoint, one of several so-called sandboxes for start-ups and established industry partners, is open to corporate members who pay between $25,000 and $250,000 in a mix of cash and in-kind contributions. In return, they get lab space and equipment, and students to work with on research projects.

PracticePoint was funded by a $5-million capital grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a $2.5-million capital and equipment grant from GE Life Sciences and a $9.5 million commitment from WPI for facility, faculty, staff and operational support.

An $85,000 grant announced in November for PracticePoint will allow two health start-ups to also be members: Worcester's Stability Health, which works to benefit diabetics, and Cambridge's eMotionRx, which creates devices for those with impaired mobility.

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