Innovating on a Shoestring: Medical Technologies for the Developing World
On June 30, 2011 the New York Academy of Sciences' Science Alliance and Scientists Without Borders co-hosted the workshop Innovating on a Shoestring: Medical Technologies for the Developing World, supported by the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation. The goal of this two-hour interactive presentation was to help mobilize graduate students, postdocs, medical students, and other scientists interested in applying their expertise to challenges facing the developing world. This workshop provided the practical knowledge, tools, and resources to identify and tackle real-world problems, with a focus on developing and deploying appropriate and necessary medical technologies for physicians and patients in low-resource settings.
Monica Kerr, Director of the Science Alliance, began the worshop by previewing the evening's agenda and by introducing Scientists Without Borders Executive Director Shaifali Puri. As Puri explained, Scientists Without Borders is a free web-based platform that aims "to unite stakeholders and individuals around the world to develop and advance innovative and effective science and technology-based solutions to critical global development challenges." The platform "enables a worldwide and multi-sector user base to exchange resources and expertise to generate challenges and co-create solutions." To show firsthand how this unique platform can be utilized successfully, Puri introduced the Earth Team—Scientists Without Borders community members and third-place winners in the global maternal health and nutrition challenge.
The Earth Team is an eclectic group of four Northwestern PhD students who aim to apply their varied knowledge and expertise in different academic disciplines to help solve real-world humanitarian and environmental issues. Joining the meeting via Skype, Toan Phan, Eneda Hoxha, Chris Wilmer, and Simeon Bogdanov shared some of their work strategy: they find challenges posted on sites like Innocentive and Scientists Without Borders and then work together in short but intense problem-solving sessions, typically lasting 1–2 days. Using this approach, they have won several major challenges and are currently partnering with on-the-ground organizations to implement some of their solutions.
Following the Earth Team, workshop leaders Jacqueline Linnes and Anna Young, from MIT's Innovations in International Health Lab, provided a number of interesting examples of innovations from scientists, technologists, designers, and others who are applying their talents and skills to meet the medical and health needs of the world's poorest communities. They presented the practical design principals and attributes for affordable global health technologies and also pointed out that "technology alone won't get you there," advocating the creation of technologies in cooperation with the end-user—those who will end up employing the technologies. To secure funding, they suggested either using the technology to answer a research question or creating dual-use technologies that are useful in developed markets as well as in the developing world. Linnes also discussed her non-linear career path into global health. This part of the workshop ended with a demonstration of an actual low-cost medical device: a nebulizer for asthma medication.
The workshop concluded with a robust dialogue between the audience and presenters on the process of developing health technologies for low-resource environments. To keep the conversation going, a "Medical Technologies for the Developing World" discussion group was formed on the Scientists Without Borders website, and attendees were encouraged to join and participate. Attendees were also strongly encouraged to look at the Challenges and Exchange sections of the website to see where they might be able to contribute their talents and resources to meet a concrete need.
This was the first live Scientists Without Borders event and the first collaboration with Science Alliance.
Use the tab above to find multimedia from this event.
Monica Kerr, PhD
Jacqueline Linnes, PhD
Jacqueline Linnes is a postdoctoral researcher working in collaboration with the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Innovations in International Health (IIH) program at MIT. She holds a PhD in Bioengineering and a certificate in Global Health from the University of Washington. Her current postdoctoral research focuses on ultraviolet disinfection technologies for the prevention of tuberculosis transmission. Linnes also leads the IIH initiative for mobile diagnostics development. She has extensive international health experience including co-founding PotaVida, a company that creates low-cost solar disinfection indicators for clean water, and leading user-response assessments of improved cooking stoves in rural Bolivia. She sits on the board of the Two Wheeled Foundation, a network of social investors and entrepreneurs empowering innovation and education in developing communities.
Anna Young is the R&D Officer for International Laboratories of Innovations in International Health at MIT. She graduated from the University of Dayton with a Bachelors degree in Finance and Economics in 2008. Young is responsible for coordinating the efforts of these projects in Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Ethiopia and for developing strategies to move technologies from need identification, to R&D, to field testing and user feedback, and then to implementation. Her main responsibilities include management of the MEDIKit project, the group solar autoclave research, and the D-Lab Health academic course at MIT. Her solar autoclave research was recently recognized by the WHO as one of the top 6 innovative technologies in health. Young is co-founder of Salud del Sol, a social enterprise focused on solar technologies for health operating in Nicaragua.