Over the last few years, industrial design engineers at TU Delft have developed more than 400 medical applications, some of which have been highly successful for a small group of patients. Unfortunately, many of these discoveries are never fully developed because production is not deemed commercially viable. Professor Richard Goossens is now searching for a solution (by setting up a fund, for example) to make these 'forgotten products' available to patients.
"Here at the university, we have countless examples of medical discoveries that could theoretically be put straight into operation," says Goossens, who is in constant touch with both the medical and the technical world. "Some of them are a huge success. Take the closing off of the uterus during uterine examination. The uterus is usually expanded by injecting water into it, which is both uncomfortable and painful for the patient. TU Delft and a team of gynaecologists designed the 'uterus plug', which allows the uterus to be expanded using a gel. Afterwards, once the examination has finished, the uterus can be sealed again using the plug. This product has been brought onto the market by a Delft company and has already found its way into many hospitals."
"Unfortunately, many useful medical discoveries are never fully developed," continues Goossens. "Take Crigler-Najjar Syndrome (CNS), for example. Patients suffering from this condition amass bilirubin, a dangerous by-product released during the breakdown of depleted red blood cells. If left untreated, this condition is potentially fatal. The treatment involves hours of light therapy on a daily basis, which makes it very difficult for patients to go to school, work or on holiday."
A student from TU Delft designed a portable 'body bag' lined with LED lights, which enabled patients to undergo light therapy during all kinds of daily activities. "However, as there are only a few dozen people in the Netherlands with this condition, manufacturers did not consider the product to be a viable option."
"The product would be of enormous benefit to CNS patients. I can imagine that many companies in the Netherlands would see supporting a fund that helps to solve problems like this as part of their corporate social responsibility."
Another illustration of a 'forgotten product' is the bumper wheelchair, which allows children with a disability to misbehave just like other children. The wheelchair is fitted with a sort of 'bull bar' that enables children to bump into objects or people quite safely, thereby allowing them to join in with games.
Goossens: "It is the job of an ergonomist to work out how to make products and procedures suitable for people, rather than the other way round. The focus here at TU Delft is on improving the safety, comfort and efficiency of products and procedures in the medical world. An important aspect of our research involves patient safety in operating theatres. Some deaths in theatre could have been avoided. We are trying to reduce the number of fatalities by, for example, developing better training equipment and procedures for surgeons."
At TU Delft, the 'Surgeon's Cockpit' research programme draws a parallel between the operating theatre and the cockpit of an aeroplane. A critical comparison highlighted huge differences between the organisation and working culture in the aviation and medical worlds. Examples of these differences include the procedures for reporting incidents, standardisation procedures using checklists and skills training. "In this respect, the medical world could learn an awful lot from the aviation industry," says Goossens.
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