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Finding a better way

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Sometimes it’s frustration over the way a medical device performs that is the inspiration for something new. We talk to a young doctor who has been through the process of identifying a problem and solving it through innovation

As a junior doctor Dr Kate Mandeville found the instrument used for lumbar punctures “ungainly” and difficult to assemble. It hadn’t been updated since its invention in the 1940s and required two doctors to operate. “Whenever I used it,” she recalls, “I thought that there must be better way.”

Mandeville approached a technology transfer firm, which put her in touch with a designer from the Royal School of Arts. After several failed prototypes, they finally developed a more ergonomic design – an all-in-one device that can be operated single-handedly. It’s since been licensed to a manufacturer and should be on the market soon.

The process took a relatively short period of time – just 18 months – but Mandeville still felt her fair share of frustration. “I wanted to improve this small part, and that’s it,” she says. “I didn’t really want to get into the legal side of things, so working with the technology transfer company was good in that sense.

“But now that I know the time and effort to reward ratio, I’d say that unless you’re doing it full time, it is tough. What’s been satisfying though has been the intellectual pursuit and seeing it come to fruition.”

Eyes wide open

The fact that it was a junior doctor who came up with this new device isn’t lost on Mandeville. New doctors, she says, can often see what more seasoned ones miss, or simply get used to.

“My idea,” she says, “was born out of frustration with having to do so many lumbar punctures with this huge, ungainly piece of equipment.

“If you’re fresh into hospitals from med school you’re more likely to see where the system isn’t working. New doctors have just learned the theory so, in some ways, they’re better able to apply it.”


It still takes a great deal of thought and perserverance to get an idea off the drawing board, however.

Vincent Giele, Medtronic’s Senior Director International Marketing of CRDM, believes many medical professionals abandon their ideas when they realise the challenges. “They are doctors, not business people,” he says.

“You have to be persistent and think broadly around the innovation from the engineering, finance and commercial perspectives,” explains Giele, who has been through the invention process himself.

Doctors with a good idea for a device, he points out, have to assess its manufacturability, develop various adaptations and tackle the fact that in other doctors’ hands, it might not work as well. These, as well as time and money to fund prototypes, are challenges that must be faced.

Most ideas, therefore, won’t see the light of the day. If you do get to the point of submitting the idea, it may already be in development, it might cost too much to get to the next stage or there’s little commercial interest for that particular device.

The key is to go into the process with your eyes open, advises Damien Bové, a medical technology development consultant.

“People underestimate what’s required and the time it will take,” he says. “They often do too much work in the wrong areas – over-engineering solutions that regulators could live with – and wasting time bouncing backwards and forwards between different strategies.

“Be persistent, know how you’re going to commercialise your endeavour and stick to your strategy solidly.”

Understanding that the innovation idea is just the start of the process will help you to manage the hurdles you have to negotiate along the way. Keeping the end result in mind will help you keep your resolve and, as Kate Mandeville said, seeing your idea come to fruition is a source of great satisfaction.


Dr Kate Mandeville
received her medical degree from Imperial College London before going on to complete a MSc in Public Health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2009. She is currently a Wellcome Clinical Research Fellow in International Health at LSHTM, researching a PhD into the cost-effectiveness of incentives to retain health workers.

Vincent Giele is Senior Director Cardiac Rhythm & Disease Management, Marketing Developed Int’l Markets at Medtronic and is based in Switzerland.

Damien Bové is a drug development and regulatory consultant who works with clients who are looking to raise funds of license out their technology.


20/10/2011 | Posted by Medtronic
Tags: medial device; innovation; lumbar punctures; prototypes; perserverance; Vincent Giele; Dr Kate Mandeville; invention process