Chris Contag: "IQ" at MSU is Converging Science to Achieve Precision Health

Aug 9, 2017

Chris Contag joined Michigan State University in November 2016 as the inaugural Director of the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering and the Chair of the new Department of Biomedical Engineering.


The new research institute, IQ, is a collaboration between the Colleges of Engineering, Human Medicine and Natural Science, but there will be numerous investigators from other disciplines. The Biomedical Engineering department and graduate program will be housed in the College of Engineering.

“I describe the work we’ll be doing as a group of biologists asking interesting biological questions, and if we don’t have the tools we need to answer those questions, we’ll build them,” says Contag. “Our goal is to watch biological processes happening in real time, and then leverage that knowledge to improve life.”

Contag talks with Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon and Spartans Athletic Director Mark Hollis on MSU Today.

“We’re applying this work to a variety of different cancers and diseases and using new engineering tools to solve problems that really present big issues to patients,” Contag tells Simon and Hollis. “We also develop new technologies for therapy, like a way of treating cancer with a patient’s own immune cells. And I think we can now begin to think about the concept of treating cancer in a curative way.

"But all of these things require convergence in science. How do we take engineering, genetic engineering, cell biology, and immunology and put them together in a comprehensive package to solve important problems in medicine?

“With the institute I’d like to move the personalized or precision medicine concept back a step and move toward something we’re calling precision health. Because if we’re treating disease, then we’re always behind the eight ball. We’re stuck behind the disease already being there.

“What if we could detect it early? What if we could detect a cancer when it was at a 100-cell stage? Then that’s not disease; that’s health. If we can maintain health, then we can better treat diseases and prevent them. Almost every cancer is treatable if you detect it early.”

MSU Today airs Sunday afternoons at 4:00 on 94.5 FM and AM 870.