Medicine X is Uniting Makers to Heal the World
By Ana Santos
MedXMakers brings together a community of diverse problem solvers and solution seekers
SATURDAY, Sept. 26 – There is no doubt that three-dimensional printing holds the key to an incredible future, as it reshapes product development and turns individuals into “makers.” This weekend at Medicine X, the audience gazed at wondrous applications of 3D printing—made possible today. With the initiative, named MedXMakers, Medicine X explores this emerging technology to help the scientific, maker, and patient communities realize its full potential to transform healthcare.
Three makers were special guests in this morning’s main stage. Monika Wittig, co-leader of MedXMakers, opened the session with astonishing examples of redesigns for medical purpose, from 3D printed human organs to accessible desktop machines. But the point she stressed was the need for collaboration. Being an outsider herself, as she joined Medicine X from the architecture industry, Wittig has learned first hand how exploring possibilities together, across both fields, can be powerful and effective. One particular application, she cited, was using design computation skills to learn how to build complex forms—from layered shapes in architecture, to the human brain in medicine. “In the end,” she concluded, “it’s about the collaboration, not just the machine. That’s really the technology we are after.”
Michael Golway stepped onto stage after Wittig with much anticipation. He is the president and CEO of Advanced Solutions, responsible for the world’s first 3D printer of human tissues, an arm-like robot that is incredibly suited for the precision required to assemble medical models. Beyond that, Golway believes that we have the potential to transform the design, research and implementation of new technologies in medicine. His plan? To use his robot arm to 3D print replacement human organs, “even a fully functional human heart,” he said. With so much success in a rather futuristic field, it is not surprising that Golway believes we are living in the greatest time in human history. “If we go back several generations, the technology was evolving exponentially; it just took a long time,” he said. “We have now an unprecedented opportunity to explore possibilities never before available.”
Student Alejandro Escario came all the way from Madrid to close this session. He is the winner of the 2015 Global Fab Awards for “Best Medical Project,” an award sponsored by Stanford Medicine X. Escario stunned the audience with his fascinating project, a low-cost incubator developed during FabAcademy 2015. As Escario explained, the project began with an exhaustive documentation, to know not only what is out there in terms of professional incubators, but, “and this is most important,” he said, what is actually needed in low-income communities.
Escario’s incubator has a wooden structure with small plastic parts, strictly necessary, to which he carefully added electronic controls for the chamber’s temperature and humidity. One of the most complicated aspects of the structure were its legs, he added, because they must be able to tilt slightly, depending on the specific needs of each baby. Most importantly, it had to be truly low-cost, and it is: while the price of such devices can range between 6,000 and 60,000 US dollars, depending on the features needed, Escario’s costs less than $300. “And the cost in Africa would be even lower, as the price of wood is much higher in Europe,” he concluded, while being applauded.
But Escario saved one of his most important remarks for last: “you don’t have to pay anything for it—it is patent free!” he said among cheers from the audience. He ended his speech with a remarkable invitation: “this is not meant to be my project. I want it to be a worldwide project. And I have one question for you: do you want to join us?” As one would expect, the audience at Med X answered with a resounding “Yes!” And there’s no doubt that they meant it.
Ana is an MA student at Stanford’s data-driven journalism program. She has extensive experience with reporting and corporate communications in her home country of Brazil and in Europe. Find her on Twitter at @anacrochas.