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Stanford doctors use biodesign training to spark health innovation in Brazil

IMG_0063How did three Stanford doctors — a sleep surgeon, an ophthalmologist and a urogynecologist — along with Biodesign Innovation Fellowship alumnus Ravi Pamnani, end up in Brazil leading a two-week biodesign bootcamp?

The doctors, Robson Capasso, MD, Robert Chang, MD, and Eric Sokol, MD are all BFFs – Stanford Biodesign Faculty Fellows. The BFF program trains Stanford medicine and engineering faculty in health technology innovation, using the biodesign approach to identify needs, invent cost-effective solutions and implement those inventions to improve patient care.

Capasso, who is Brazilian, and Pamani spent two years laying the groundwork for the bootcamp. Their goal was to inspire and educate Brazilian students and faculty, using the biodesign innovation process, to meet Brazil’s healthcare needs. Capasso explained:

Brazil’s aging population has shifted the burden of disease from communicable diseases to chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. To help manage these conditions, we need solutions that are as effective and safe as technologies designed for the U.S. and Europe, but that are simpler and more affordable. By introducing a health innovation curriculum, we hoped to provide a framework and a process that doctors, engineers, and other innovators can use to develop solutions for this setting.

While Capasso and Pamnani saw this as a great opportunity, they also knew it would also be a big challenge. To make it happen, they recruited Chang and Sokol and partnered with PUC, a network of private universities in Brazil, to run the event, named HiPUC (Health Innovation at PUC-PR). From a pool of over 120 applicants, the organizers selected 22 engineers, doctors and business specialists, including two Brazilian post-docs currently studying in the U.S. who flew home to participate.

After being divided into multidisciplinary teams, the trainees spent time at both public and private hospitals to identify needs and attended lectures on medicine, brainstorming, design thinking and business models.  At lunch, they watched presentations from well-known Brazilian and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, academics and medtech executives.

After two weeks of hard work and very little sleep, they presented their final projects: One team developed a device prototype for negative-pressure wound therapy. The other three teams delivered software prototypes — one that increased the accuracy of antibiotic prescriptions in a hospital setting, another improved access to cardiac rehabilitation and a third aims to help manage potassium intake in patients with kidney disease.

“Brazilians are eager adopters of technology, making digital health a fertile field for innovation,” Capasso said.

These final projects and accompanying business plans were presented during a two-day seminar that included representatives from the Brazilian medtech sector as well as local government officials, academics, local leaders of global companies and some of the country’s venture capitalists. Patrick Sigrist, a Brazilian entrepreneur, investor, and bootcamp judge, reflected on the event:

This event was a game changer for the Brazilian health tech ecosystem. It's the seed we needed to help create startups that will eventually become great companies. I see pitches that have taken companies one to two years to develop whose value proposition and business model did not have the potential that these projects showed.

Looking forward, all of the teams plan to continue working on their projects. Several of the university participants said they intend to develop their own innovation programs, and Capasso said he expects to repeat the bootcamp experience for a new batch of aspiring innovators in the future. Here's Capasso:

The bootcamp showed what can be accomplished when you bring motivated people, intellectual capital and resources together with a well-defined, validated process for innovation.

Previously: Biodesign trip highlights an innovative approach to Japan's aging crisisStanford-India Biodesign co-founder: "You can become a millionaire, but also make a difference" and Biodesign at Stanford: A whopping success
Photo by Robson Capasso

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