Intelligent Machines

Ron Newbower ‘65

Scientist helps transform culture of medical research

After Ron Newbower earned his bachelor’s degree in physics at MIT and a PhD at Harvard, he veered away from a conventional career in solid-state physics despite the innovation booms in electronics and semiconductors. His wife, a nurse, introduced him to issues facing medical professionals, so he took a risk and accepted a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation to do research at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), with an eye toward a career collaborating with clinicians. “MIT made me realize I could work in any domain,” he says. “Without that, I don’t think I would have had the confidence.”

At the time, postdocs were rarely taken seriously in medical centers, and Newbower had to earn acceptance. He did just that with the Anesthesia Bioengineering Unit he assembled. He and his colleagues developed innovative physiological instrumentation and undertook pioneering studies on human error in anesthesia. These laid the groundwork for the standards of monitoring accepted worldwide today. They were also partly responsible for reducing deaths from such errors from 5,000 annually in the United States to near zero.

Boosted by his research successes, Newbower founded MGH’s academic Department of Biomedical Engineering. Ten years later he was appointed the hospital’s first non-MD vice president of research, and he ultimately became the Partners HealthCare System’s senior VP for research management. He worked to improve women’s career opportunities in medical research and cochaired task forces that formed academic relationships with MIT, Harvard, and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. “You have to be an activist to make collaboration happen,” he says.

Newbower also cofounded the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT), where he now serves full time as strategic director and chief technology officer. CIMIT, a nonprofit consortium that links Boston’s major teaching hospitals with MIT and other engineering institutions, fosters interdisciplinary teams that develop and commercialize novel and cost-effective approaches to improving patient care.

CIMIT sponsors hundreds of projects, some of which involve implantable and wearable devices, lifelike simulations to teach medical procedures, and computer programs to better analyze physiological signals. These days Newbower, who has two adult sons and lives in Acton, Massachusetts, with his wife, Donna, focuses on issues of technology and medical costs. “In health care, technology is branded as a villain in rising costs, when it should be part of the solution to this crisis,” he says.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Listen in as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.