Jul 04, 2023


Anant Naik loves a challenge. It's a good thing. This summer, the 2023 Carle Illinois College of Medicine graduate embarks on one of the toughest paths in medical science: a seven-year medical residency in neurosurgery. He will return to familiar surroundings – the medical center at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota – bringing a new vision for research-fueled technological innovation that leads to groundbreaking new treatments. His sights are set on one very important goal: to leverage engineering and technology to improve care for patients with life-threatening neurological conditions.

Naik came to CI MED as a member of the new college's inaugural class. He is now its first graduate to specialize in neurosurgery, a field that is demanding scientifically, physically, and emotionally. "During my sub-internships, my gauge was, could I handle the pressure," Naik said. "I just fell in love with the field, and once I knew neurosurgery was the field for me, I just committed heart and soul."

Naik has pursued neurosurgery and his passion for innovation with relentless resolve. He immersed himself in clinical experiences and research that would prepare him for residency match into one of the most competitive medical specialties. He became heavily involved in the Carle Neuroscience Institute, published scores of research papers, and, with the help of mentors like Drs. Wael Mostafa and Paul Arnold at Carle Health, gained advanced experience, including research with the 7Tesla MRI, that few medical students have an opportunity to work with. When he realized the necessity of extensive research to support innovation in the neurosurgical field, Naik took up the challenge, devoting an extra year in medical school focused on research. While forging his own path, Naik became a leader among CI MED students interested in neurosurgical research. Five years after the college accepted its first students, CI MED now has a strong and thriving neurosurgery interest group with increased research output and presentations at national and international conferences, all aimed at advancing neurosurgical care for patients.

By design, research at CI MED fuels engineering-based innovation. Naik tapped into his engineering background to create a new potentially life-extending treatment for patients with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive form of brain cancer which usually claims the lives of patients within 12-24 months of diagnosis. He and classmate Emily Smith teamed up to research, design, and prototype a device that builds on proven science showing that photodynamic therapy (PDT) administered just once in the operating room immediately following brain tumor surgery can significantly extend patient survival times by selectively destroying residual cancer cells. "As of now, only one PDT device, Optune, has been approved by the FDA to treat glioblastoma. Our aspiration is to change that and show that engineering and other devices have a role in helping patients with GBM and other aggressive brain cancers," Naik said.

The team's proposed new treatment, called "Beacon," consists of several components working together: a transcranial surgical implant, administration of a drug called 5-ALA that can selectively destroy residual cancer cells, and focused delivery of photodynamic therapy to activate the drug. The implant miniaturizes the PDT light beams and would allow treatment to be delivered repeatedly outside the OR as a supplement to standard post-surgical radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

The team won third place in the Cozad New Venture Challenge Finals, plus the Grand Prize in the Health Innovation category in the competition's new Health Care track for a total investment of $25 thousand. The winnings, along with prototyping and mentoring support awarded by mHub in Chicago, will help the team refine their existing prototypes and start proof-of-concept testing. If the new device proves to be as safe and effective as Naik and his team expect, Beacon could offer new hope to patients facing a grim prognosis. The team has set an ambitious goal to have their new device on the market in 2027 if testing and regulatory approval permit.

The COVID-19 pandemic posed unexpected and unprecedented challenges for CI MED students in clinical training. Medical students couldn't be at the bedside providing care, so Naik decided to channel his energies and his artistic talents toward humanistic causes that are important to him. He authored and published a book for children called Heroes of the Pandemic, explaining how the virus began and celebrating the everyday heroes who emerged, including doctors, nurses, truck drivers, and postal workers. Naik launched his own social media campaign, trading on his artistic talents by creating bespoke portraits and sketches of friends in exchange for donations to a non-profit group that fights food insecurity. His out-of-the-box thinking raised $600 in donations.

A first-generation immigrant from India, Naik, along with his family, eventually made Minnesota their home. He attended the University of Minnesota with the help of financial aid and came to CI MED on a full-ride scholarship provided to all members of the inaugural class. Having been born in a resource-scarce environment, Naik says he was "naturally drawn to questions of accessibility," even from his early days as a medical student. It's a commitment he plans to carry forward into his professional practice.

Five years ago, Naik came to CI MED with the desire to become a physician-scientist. Along the way, he's achieved this goal and many others, including serving as student government president, being selected as a finalist for the coveted Illinois Innovation Award, and winning CI MED's King Li, MD, MBA Physician Innovator Award for 2023. He credits his parents, family, friends, and his mentors at Carle Health and CI MED for providing a solid foundation to realize his dreams. As he sets his compass for residency in Minnesota, it's clear Anant Naik is prepared to conquer whatever challenges lie ahead.