The Future of Neurosurgery Includes Engineering

Neurosurgery and technology have long been interdependent – advances in diagnostics, intraoperative imaging, and innovative surgical tools and techniques make it possible to provide treatments that were once the stuff of science fiction. Recognizing the synergistic potential of engineering with all areas of health care, the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca has become a valued partner to Neurological Surgery and many other departments at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. A recent two-day symposium brought together dozens of experts from both campuses to review and discuss current and potential collaborations to revolutionize patient care.

The “Biomedical Engineering Symposium: Tools to Transform Discovery & Care” was held at the Weill Cornell Medicine campus on May 22-23. It was co-chaired by the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine’s Director, Olivier Elemento, Ph.D.; Cornell Engineering’s Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering Director, Marjolein van der Meulen, Ph.D.; and the Director of Neurosurgical Radiosurgery and Neuro-oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine Neurological Surgery, Susan C. Pannullo, M.D.

The symposium was part of the Engineering Innovations in Medicine initiative by Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Engineering, designed to form unconventional partnerships that transcend academic disciplines to find solutions for diseases including many brain and spine conditions.

“Over the past 15 years, we have had several collaborative programs between the School of Biomedical Engineering, neurological surgery, and other medical specialties where we have discussed synergies between biomedical engineers and clinicians,” said Dr. Pannullo. “For example, Dr. Roger Härtl is working with Dr. Lawrence Bonassar on developing bioengineered replacement discs for spine conditions. This year Dr. Michael Kaplitt and Dr. Roberta Marongiu presented their research to our biomedical engineering colleagues from Ithaca – by getting neurosurgical research in front of biomedical engineers we could inspire a previously unthought-of collaboration that breaks new ground for patients. My hope for this symposium was to bring people together from multiple specialties on both sides from the engineering school to the medical college, as well as Cornell Tech, to converse, collaborate, and innovate together in this environment.”

Beyond the sharing of information, a common theme throughout the symposium was the establishment of collaborations that can leverage the resources, talents, and technical expertise needed to advance science and translate new treatments to patients.    

“My hope for the symposium is to form lasting and impactful collaborations, and that can only happen when our communities better get to know each other,” said Dr. van der Meulen. “And the symposium is part of that process, it starts with interacting through these shorter talks and presentations. The deeper talks will flow after people get to know each other and develop a deeper appreciation of each other’s research priorities. While research collaborations are the most obvious targets, private sector collaborations that can get an idea off the ground are also exciting.” 

Dr. Pannullo concurred. “Prior events have developed collaborations that have attracted new funding, with longitudinal relationships that have created impactful publications and ongoing work together. And I imagine this event will be leveraged into additional similar collaborative approaches.”

At the conclusion of the first day of the symposium, a poster session allowed for the additional sharing of research concepts, interactions with trainees, and the opportunity for attendees to get to know each other informally. 

The symposium concluded with working groups sharing recommendations to enhance intercampus interactions and ideas for collaboration.


Neurological Surgery 525 E. 68th St., Starr 651, Box 99 New York, NY 10065