Fighting Brain Drain - Part 1

By: Ryan Famuliner Email
By: Ryan Famuliner Email

Thousands of jobs in our area have disappeared over the past year, and many people are simply waiting and hoping their jobs will come back once the recession ends.

But others are trying to blaze their own path, with hopes to bring the rest of the area with them.

Tonight we start part one of the special series, "Fighting Brain Drain."

The term ‘brain drain’ originated back in the 1960's, when many innovators began making their way to the United States; draining other countries around the world of valuable ideas.

In today's age where outsourcing is all too common some fear the opposite is happening; that innovators are now leaving the U.S.

They say breeding innovation here at home is the key to success in the future; and that our area can play a key role.

Few tasks sound more daunting than finding a cure for cancer; but it's what Dr. Mark Suckow and his staff do every day in their Notre Dame lab.

“This particular model that we've used, we've seen nothing that comes even close to this, so we're very encouraged… In our experimental model we've shown that we could cure 20% of rats that had prostate cancer and prevent (spreading to the lungs) to the lungs in 70%,”
Dr. Suckow said.

His product uses a novel approach; using tissue from tumors to make a cancer-fighting vaccine.

After 6 or 7 years of research, Dr. Suckow says he's close to trying to take his vaccine to market.

“Our work has been unique to this laboratory up to this point, but we have reached a stage that we need to build bridges to other laboratories to collaborators and to seek other expertise to really move this along to transitional commercialization,” Dr. Suckow said.

That can be some very heavy lifting that can be tough to do on your own.

“There’s the sales part of it, there’s the finance, there’s manufacturing; there’s all these things. It’s not just an idea, it’s the market of all these things that have to come together,” said David Brenner C.E.O. and President of Notre Dame’s Innovation Park.

That's exactly the role Innovation Park plans to facilitate.

“We're going to be taking ideas and in this building working with the people who have the ideas and the market experts to be able to transform them into a commercial reality. You could easily think of it as a commercial accelerator,” Brenner said.

The finished product just south of Notre Dame's campus will house conference rooms and scientific labs. They’ll be used in presenting research to potential investors from Fortune 100 companies, and working with developers to possibly turn them into a viable product.

But the question on many people's minds; even if a company is built, what will keep it, and its jobs, here in Michiana?

“It's true that not all ideas stay in one place, but what is true is that the better ideas tend to stay in the areas where they're getting the support that they need… But understand this is only one piece of the puzzle, Ignition Park downtown as well as a lot of the other activities that are going on in this area, are contributing to that growth, that opportunity,” Brenner said.

For researchers like Dr. Suckow, that might be enough to keep a potential cure for our local economic troubles from moving elsewhere.

“We've had opportunities to create this company elsewhere and we've been approached by other locales, but in fact we've very enthusiastic about Innovation Park and we believe in South Bend. We believe in the infrastructure that’s here the people that are here and for those reasons we want to be here and we want to grow here,” Dr. Suckow said.

Planners say the first building at Innovation Park is on pace to be completed in September, as planned.

Meantime, they've already started making contacts with companies that might be interested in investing.

In part two tomorrow, we’ll tell you more about the breadth of research going on at Notre Dame, and about how long it might be before some of these ides grow into companies, and ultimately, jobs.

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