Medical Maker Aims Implant at Congenital Scoliosis

Here's an example of engineering truly improving lives and one inspiring young maker.

Harry Paul, 18, is a freshman at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, studying biochemistry and community health. Paul was born with congenital scoliosis, a spinal deformity caused by vertebrae that are not properly formed and that takes several pediatric surgeries to manage.

Paul spent three years in high school designing and engineering an implant for congenital scoliosis that proves the feasibility of growth-dependent treatment systems that can reduce the number of surgeries a child would have to undergo. He also built a mechanically growing model of the spinal column to test his device.

Paul was named a finalist to the 2014 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where he competed and won first place in Bioengineering, Best-in-Category, the Chief of Naval Research Award sponsored by the US Department of Naval Research, the Innovation Exploration Award, and the Ukrainian Open-Hearts Foundation award.

Just a few weeks ago he was a guest of US President Obama at the 5th Annual White House Science Fair.  A self-described maker, he is interested in the intersection of engineering, health policy, and medical anthropology.

Paul recent spoke with EDN via email. Below are parts of that conversation. Paul will be continuing the conversation as a member of the Embedded Systems Conference/BioMEDevices panel “The Maker Movement Meets Medical” on May 7, 2015, at 1pm. Register here and join us at the event.

EDN: Briefly tell us about your device and what inspired it.

Paul: Growing up with congenital scoliosis, I had to endure over a dozen surgeries that prevented me from living a normal life and going to school full time. I was inspired to learn more about the way spinal implants are designed, and in my research I formed my own ideas about what might work better. After three years of prototyping and modeling, I came up with an implant that reduces the number of surgeries needed as well as a mechanically growing model of the spinal column that simulates the way a child's spine naturally grows – for testing purposes.

EDN: You describe yourself as a maker. What obstacles have you encountered along your design path as a maker that, for example, an experienced engineer with a full education and years of background work to source may not have encountered?

Paul: The bugs I ran into were never ending. I can't say they could have been prevented if I was a trained engineer, since errors, bugs and obstacles are a natural part of the design process — but they were exasperating. Part of the beauty of making is that innovation comes through troubleshooting. Whether you're a trained engineer or a high school student, I think everybody should have a maker's attitude.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EDN.

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