ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Stewart Wang says he's good at delivering bad news. But he hates having to do it.
Wang, founding director of the International Center for Automotive Medicine at the University of Michigan Health System, and his colleagues are trying to understand the causes of injuries from vehicle crashes in order to better prevent and treat them.
More than 100 representatives from automakers, suppliers, government and academia gathered here this morning to mark the opening of ICAM's 3,000 square feet of renovated lab space.
During the presentation, Wang outlined ICAM's three main goals:
- Fostering cross-disciplinary study
- Developing more advanced ways of testing the impact of crashes on the human body
- Affecting policymakers
Using medical images from crash victims, Wang said ICAM has built a database of auto accident case studies to help show how people are injured in wrecks and how the automakers can build safer vehicles.
"What the auto companies and engineers can get from working with us is a much better understanding of what's actually happening out there in the real world," Wang said in an interview with Automotive News. "What happens in a crash dummy laboratory isn't always reflective of what's happening in the real world."
There are 18 people on the research team. The 3,000-square-foot renovation, which cost about $800,000, has 40 computer work stations for researchers to perform data analysis.
Though ICAM is housed at the University of Michigan, it has received funding from various sources including the National Institutes of Health, Medical Fellowship for Engineers, the American College of Surgeons and other federal and state agencies. A spokesman could not immediately provide the center's annual budget.
There are several large projection screens at the front of the room used in case studies and they're able to be streamed over the Internet so researchers and experts from around the world can participate. ICAM also uses existing clinical and anatomic facilities in the University's Medical School.
Mini med school
Wang also highlighted ICAM's University of Michigan Program for Injury Research and Education fellowships, which he called a "mini medical school" for automotive engineers.
The yearlong program gives automotive engineers a chance to learn about the human body's response and reaction to crashes.
"Coming and doing the fellowship really humanizes the safety problem for the engineers," Wang said. "I'm always amazed at how motivated they become and how devoted they are to their jobs, the new energy that they draw, because they now understand that it's about people, not some number or some test."
U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.; Robert Lange, group vice president at engineering and consulting firm Exponent Inc. and a former safety executive director at General Motors; Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; and James Vondale, director of Ford Motor Co.'s Automotive Safety Office; participated in a panel discussion.
During the talk, Vondale praised the partnership between ICAM and the automakers, adding that the center has brought people together to make significant developments in automotive safety.
"This collaboration effort is so important to bring a wide array of views, information and technology to the table so we can really make advances," Vondale said.
Still, Wang said he hopes that one day he won't need to give patients or their families bad news as often as he does now.
"We are trying to be an assembly place, an open forum, where everybody can come in, interact, learn with each other, and help each other with our ultimate mission," Wang said, "which is to make cars safer and save lives."