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Stanford University School of Medicine

An outsider’s look at the biodesign process

FullSizeRenderThe recent WearAble TeCHnology in Healthcare Society (WATCH) Conference presented me, a social media intern, with an opportunity I would have never had otherwise – to immerse myself in the field of biodesign and health-care innovation for a morning.

As I approached the Byers Center for Biodesign on the Stanford campus, I feared I was the only non-PhD or non-MD in a half-mile radius. I was going to be out of my depth in every way possible, I was sure of it.

However, as soon as the tour began, it became immediately clear that this lab was different. Yellow and blue bins packed with wires and gizmos, shown above, lined the shelves. Here, researchers with MBAs work together with MDs and PhDs.

My morning of firsts was just getting started. Bronwyn Harris, MD, a former biodesign fellow and pediatric cardiologist, began the tour by describing the Biodesign Innovation Fellowship, a full-time, nearly one-year program that immerses potential innovators in the biodesign process. She explained how fellows spent the earliest portion of their fellowship in the hospital, observing patient-doctor interactions and identifying a need to satisfy. The point of needs-based innovation is not to innovate for the purpose of staying ahead of industry curves and making profits, but is intended to solve an existing problem, she explained.

The next first came when she introduced the teams and how they tackled the problem at hand. The teams, made up of physicians, surgeons, entrepreneurs and engineers, work as a single unit to both develop a solution and come up with a practical method of getting their design to the people who need it most. This process often leads to new companies, such as Harris's own Tueo Health, which developed a method to monitor severely asthmatic children and predict attacks. As the fellowship ended, the team members obtained the intellectual property rights for their invention and began seeking investors to back the company.

After the tour, I was left with some surprising lasting impressions. Although it seems obvious now, I had never fully considered the business and legal sides of innovating. Furthermore, the support required to be successful not only in creating a new product, but also in entering industry and making the product accessible is understated, but crucial. Now, I'm much more aware of what it means to innovate and solve problems, skills I'm sure to draw on in the future.

Previously: "We have been very successful in training high-tech innovators in the last 15 years:" A look at Stanford BiodesignStanford-India Biodesign co-founder: "You can become a millionaire, but also make a difference" and Following the heart and the mind in biodesign
Photo by Anisha Dangoria

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