Drug Discovery, Engineering

Southern Research works to spur medical device development in Birmingham

February 7, 2019

Southern Research’s Stacey Kelpke, Ph.D., believes Birmingham is well equipped to become the next hub for the development of innovative medical devices, thanks to the city’s rich manufacturing heritage and its wide-ranging healthcare expertise,

As director of Southern Research’s Medical Technology program, Kelpke is leading an initiative that aims to harness the broad-based resources already present in Birmingham and in Alabama to make that a reality.

“Our goal is to help establish the Birmingham area as a center for medical device business formation by working in a collaborative fashion to capitalize on the region’s dynamic healthcare sector and its deep roots in manufacturing,” Kelpke said. “It seems natural to fuse those two elements together, combining a new strength with a historic one.”

Southern Research medical devices
Stacey Kelpke directs Southern Research’s Medical Technology program. She wants to see Birmingham become a hub for medical device development.

Kelpke plans to couple Southern Research’s extensive capabilities in fields such as drug discovery and engineering with the Birmingham area’s increasingly vibrant start-up ecosystem to accelerate the development of medical device technologies.

Initial steps in the initiative include:

  • Southern Research is hosting a MedTech Symposium on Feb. 28 that will bring innovators, policymakers and experts from around the nation to Birmingham to discuss medical device development.
  • Kelpke has formed an Advisory Board comprised of industry leaders and healthcare executives to generate ideas and lend expertise on how to advance the initiative.
  • Southern Research is seeking to connect medical device startups and entrepreneurs in Alabama with sources of possible funding that can spur the formation of new enterprises and accelerate the growth of fledgling businesses.
  • Kelpke has launched efforts to foster community engagement and form new partnerships that can boost medical device development by identifying and promoting resources.

“Southern Research has been translating ideas into innovations with commercial potential for over a half a century in Birmingham,” said Josh Carpenter, director of Innovation and Economic Opportunity for the City of Birmingham.

“With their leadership, expertise, and convening power, Birmingham can sharpen its focus on medical device research and development, enhancing the city’s collective market presence.”


While Kelpke has been working behind the scenes on the initiative for several months, the MedTech Symposium being held this month at Southern Research will serve as its community debut.

Scheduled speakers include Craig Buerstatte, acting director for the U.S Commerce Department’s Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Tiffany Wilson, CEO of the Global Center for Medical Innovation; and Chris West, president of the Zeroto510, a Memphis, Tennessee-based accelerator that focuses on medical device startups.

Alabama Department of Commerce
Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, will participate in a Southern Research symposium on medical devices.

In addition, Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, is scheduled to speak on a panel discussion at the event. Canfield’s department administers the Alabama Innovation Fund, which has provided funding for Southern Research’s efforts in medical device development.

“The symposium gives us a chance to educate the community about the potential of medical device development and to bring in resources that can spark conversations and help us build an environment in Birmingham for innovators in this field,” Kelpke said.

For more information on the seminar or to register, click here.


Southern Research has worked to promote medical device development since 2014 and has provided internal seed funding for more than a dozen medical technology projects in recent years.

Going forward, Southern Research is looking at its own expertise to develop medical technologies and forge collaborations with academic and industrial partners. The organization’s fields of expertise include system designs, imaging, sensors, material testing and additive manufacturing, as well as drug discovery.

Blair King, manager of economic development and existing industry for Alabama Power and a member of the Southern Research Medical Technology advisory board, said Birmingham possesses all the resources needed to spur the development of medical devices.

“With both world-class health care and scientific research taking place in Birmingham, there’s the realistic potential for the development and commercialization of new medical devices and technologies, along with the formation of new jobs,” King said. “Thanks to its multifaceted capabilities and its collaborative skills, Southern Research can work in concert with other organizations to shape an environment where innovation can take place.”

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