Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Vaibhav Bajaj Employs Computer-Aided Design in Developing Innovative Health Technologies 


Vaibhav Bajaj works as a Product Planner for one of the world’s largest wearable health technology companies. Since earning a Master of Engineering Management degree from Duke University, following a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s in Chemistry at the prestigious Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani, he has focused his technical and business expertise on innovating, scaling, and planning cutting-edge technologies that improve human health and well-being. 

Vaibhav launched his professional career while gaining academic experience in biomedical device innovation at Duke University Hospital, where he identified the need for a better mechanism to sterilize post-surgical drains, and thus reduce the incidence of surgical site infections for patients who have undergone a wide range of surgeries including mastectomies, liver and kidney transplants, pancreatic cancer surgeries, abdominoplasties, and general plastic surgeries. Using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) technology, he and his team invented a wearable UV (ultraviolet) sterilization device that earned a U.S. patent and was awarded a significant development grant from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. This potentially life-saving device, which can produce better patient outcomes by lowering post-operative infection and readmission rates, is now being commercialized by Duke University.

Prior to his current role, Vaibhav was the wearable health technologies Category Lead for Walmart, where he planned, led, and launched multiple cross-functional strategy programs that sustained a $1.3 billion medical device portfolio on e-commerce and other omni channels. TechBullion spoke with Vaibhav about deploying new technologies to solve critical issues in healthcare and the challenges associated with bringing innovative tools to market.    

Q: Vaibhav, let’s start with what inspired you to pursue advanced education in engineering management and biomedical device innovation. Tell us about your background. Were you always interested in the intersection between technology and healthcare, or did that come during your academic career? 

A: In my early engineering years, I was always intrigued by new technologies and innovation, but additionally, I also looked for ways in which those technological innovations could be sold to the end consumer to improve people’s lives. I saw a lot of great startups failing and had an important realization that just inventing something new was never going to be enough. A founder/innovator needs to investigate how it helps the end customer and general population. I made a conscious effort to gain business and commercialization experience while I worked on novel technologies. As far as healthcare is concerned, I felt that it’s a perfect industry for me to help make a difference. I found some amazing Biomedical Devices Innovation courses offered by Duke University that perfectly fit my aspirations. Hence, after my earning undergraduate degree from BITS Pilani, I decided to pursue a Masters’ degree in Engineering Management from Duke University and build on those intersectional skills. 

Q: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first referred to surgical site infection (SSI) in 1992. SSIs are recognized as the most widely-known complication of postoperative procedures and are linked to numerous adverse outcomes that drive higher healthcare costs. Yet as recently as July 2023, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Library of Medicine/Center for Biotechnology Information published an article describing how SSIs are still a growing global concern with huge financial implications. NIH estimates that SSIs may result in up to $10 billion annually in direct and indirect medical costs, and the World Health Organization notes that in the U.S. alone, SSIs contribute to 400,000 additional hospital days for patients each year at an aggregate cost of $900 million. Tell us why you wanted to invent a device to mitigate SSIs, and how it could be part of the solution to this critical problem.

A: As a student in the Biomedical Devices Innovation course at Duke University, I had a fascinating opportunity to visit Duke University Hospital’s Plastic Surgery department, and witness some of the most critical, delicate, and invasive procedures. One of the surgeries that I observed was a reconstructive surgery conducted by one of the world’s finest plastic surgeons, Dr. Scott Hollenbeck. He was kind enough to show us the tools, protocols, and techniques that he and his team used to carry out a highly invasive reconstructive surgery. One of the post-operative devices that I saw Dr. Hollenbeck use was a surgical drain that seemed to be very inconvenient for the patient to use, maneuver, and replace. As a result, me and my team saw a huge opportunity to improve the methods in which SSIs are managed in a post-op world.

Q: Describe the process of inventing your innovative sterilization device. How did you use CAD to envision a new kind of wearable healthcare technology? What types of problems did you encounter in the process, and how did you use CAD to solve them?  

A: Once I saw the type of surgical drains that were currently used in the market, the biggest problem we found was the non-reusability of the drains, which made it exponentially more difficult for the patient to remove and replace, and incurred additional costs at the same time. So, there were two options we could deploy: we could completely revamp the design of the current surgical drain, or design another device to  eradicate the issue of “removing and replacing” the drains, that can reduce infections in the current drain. I realized that implementing the second option was a far superior choice, that would be  cost effective and mechanically feasible. This involved modelling the current surgical drain in a computer-aided design (CAD) software application, where we could see a 3D rendering of the device and properly understand the dimensions and intricacies of the drain’s exterior. We had to come up with a design of a bulb that properly engulfs the surgical drain from every angle, so that it can be sterilized using UV radiations emitted within the bulb. The biggest problem we faced in the CAD modelling of the bulb was to make it airtight, so that the UV radiations and bacteria don’t leak out and can be removed whenever the patient wants. CAD helped us with those exact dimensions to make the bulb airtight by using the least silicon material possible.

Q: What challenges have you experienced in patenting your invention and bringing it to market? What is the process and timeline from idea to implementation? And how important was it to involve physicians and other stakeholders in the end-to-end design process?

A: I knew we had a novel idea. But we were far from getting it prototyped and securing investors’ backing. There were so many steps in the middle that I initially underestimated, but were equally critical in filing a successful patent. After concept development and having a design on paper, there was extensive research required on existing solutions and technologies in the market to ensure there was no infringement. This involved digging deeper into U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) databases and reading numerous patents and journals. Once we ensured there was no infringement, we needed to get feedback from physicians and doctors, including Dr. Hollenbeck at Duke University Hospital, on feasibility and sustainability of the prototype, if built. Fortunately, we got positive responses from all the practitioners, and eventually prepared and filed a patent through Duke’s Office of Licensing and Ventures. After four years of waiting, the patent was approved/granted by USPTO. Multiple firms started showing interest in the patented technology, especially the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which contributed $110,000.00 through a deal with Duke University for prototyping, designing, and conceptualization of the device. We are currently pursuing further funding to bring the device to market.  

Q: Since 2017, you have meshed your technical expertise with business applications that help companies forecast consumer needs and bring a broad array of wearable technologies to more people worldwide. How does this focus advance your personal and professional goals? 

A: I have worked with great innovators and businessmen throughout my career. I know it’s tough to be both, a good innovator with good business acumen. That has been my biggest motivator as I have progressed in my career. From working at Walmart in launching their Breast Pump Program for new moms, to working at Apple on their Apple Watch team, I have enjoyed leveraging my technical and business skills to help the world’s most renowned companies bring their best products to their customers. The goal again ties back to making a difference, and these roles have enabled me to make positive contributions.  For example, while working on Apple Watch business, I performed several analyses regarding launch strategy, demand impact for new versus old models, contingency and flexibility planning in case of unexpected demand trends, and macro-economic impact. Analyzing these sales forecasts for short term and medium term ensures that products can reach as many customers as possible, hence making their lives easier on the health front. 

Q: Biomedical engineering has been an academic area since the late 1960s, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job growth in this field will grow five percent from 2022 to 2032, which is faster than the average three percent rate for other occupations. Earlier in your career you designed multi-million-dollar product commercialization strategies for healthcare startups, and you have continued to develop specialized expertise in analyzing the industry landscape for U.S. and international medical device companies. How do you foresee the rapid acceleration of new technologies impacting innovation in biomedical engineering? What does this mean for patients and consumers, and what would you say about investment opportunities in this field, particularly in this transformative era?

A: When I was working on “Methods and Systems for Sterilizing Surgical Drains,” the world of wearable technologies was very different than it is now. We have come a long way in the industry, and it’s been for the better, with so many advanced products in the market like smartwatches, fitness trackers, AR/VR headsets, blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors, smart clothing, etc. The acceptance of these products has only grown over time, since they are now more affordable and easily available. Various big tech firms are getting into the space to make sure they tap into this growing segment and gain a piece of the pie. As a result, there has been more hiring in such companies for such technologies, and I think it is only going to grow. Companies have realized that it’s not just about connecting people with each other, but also making  individuals’ lives better, more productive, and healthier. 

I see great potential in these devices being helpful to the general population. Today’s technology is not just limited to medical devices and instruments, but also more integrated with already existing devices such as smartphones, watches, sensor tracking, and others, that any health enthusiast can purchase. This means that  these tools are becoming a great source of prevention and early diagnosis. Innovative tools are  helping people track their progress better, like watching their weight, heart rate, cardiovascular health, oxygen levels, and much more. And once people have easy access to personal health data, they usually act on it and make better decisions (i.e. how many times to work out in a week, how many daily calories they need to intake, eating a balanced diet). Consequently, I do think that life expectancy is going to increase in the future. The bigger challenge, when it comes to technology in this domain, would be to maintain the level of accuracy in the health data that the end customer is gathering. Because if the data is not tracking the vitals correctly, customers can be misled, which could lead to pursuing unnecessary medical tests and guidance. 

As good as  progress is in the industry, I do believe  there are some drawbacks with such rapid developments. For example, with magnified competition in the space, multiple technologies and companies become obsolete too quickly, even though the end customer is getting the best possible product in the grand scheme of things. 

But if channeled in the right way, and if the mass population is given access to such tools at a more affordable price (even less  than what they are now), it can prove to be of huge health benefit in the long term.

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Hi, I'm Muhammad Burhan. I'm a tech blogger and content writer who is here to help you stay up to date with the latest advancements in technology. We cover everything from the newest gadgets, software trends, and even industry news! Our unique approach combines user-friendly explanations of complex topics with concise summaries that make it easy for you to understand how technologies can help improve your life.


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