The Triple Helix, the undergraduate journal of science, society and law, hosted a panel event titled “Discussion on Innovations for Global Health” in the Charles Commons Ballroom on Monday. Professors from Hopkins and other universities used the event as a forum to speak about the challenges and breakthroughs in the interdisciplinary field of global health.
“I think the event was unique from others at Hopkins, because it brought together faculty not from one specific discipline, but from different fields to discuss the general subject. Participants were able to touch on the technological, clinical and commercial factors of global health issues,” President of The Triple Helix Akshay Sanghi said.
Addressing the roughly 30 attendees, guest lecturer Dr. Sujata Bhatia, a professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard University, discussed the potential of biology-based materials in medicine.
Bhatia talked about how she became involved in engineering polysaccharide-based tissue sealants after learning about the high number of internal wounds patients of surgery sustain. She said it occurred to her that some sort of sealant was an unmet clinical need.
Bhatia argued that the potential of biomedical innovations is far-reaching because a focus on naturally-derived polymers allows developing nations to enter the biomedical field.
In an effort to facilitate this goal, Bhatia held biopolymer workshops in Kenya, where she educated participants in current research and techniques and had them brainstorm ways to use their new knowledge to address unmet needs.
“I encourage all to be engineers and innovators. It’s about seeing unmet needs and innovating. We can inspire people all over the world to let them know they can be scientists,” Bhatia said.
Following Bhatia’s presentation, faculty panelists introduced themselves and discussed how their professional focus related to global health.
Vice Chair of the Department of Material Science and Engineering John Erlebacher commented on the world population’s reliance on manufactured materials.
He also reminded the audience that global health issues should be addressed using the technology available today.
“These problems are big. While we should explore future innovations, we should not rely on these non-existent technologies to solve today’s problems,” Erlebacher said.
Vice President and Medical Director of Jhpiego Harshad Sanghvi discussed the difficulty of expanding innovations globally. Jhpiego, an affiliate of Hopkins, works to bring quality healthcare and health innovations to countries around the world.
Sanghvi described the issues facing developing countries, including a lack of guidelines and standards, inadequate supervision and overcrowded hospitals.
Despite the challenges, Sanghvi said Jhpiego has developed creative solutions. He stressed that healthcare is not about the best care that exists, but about the best care that can be brought to the majority of the population.
“We once trained nurses to do C-sections. We have to train whoever is available rather than physicians, so we have to make the technology simpler so that people can do the right thing,” Sanghvi said.
Director of Jhpiego’s Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program Dr. Koki Agarwal spoke of the unique challenges providers and patients are faced with in developing countries.
After collecting data on what providers in various countries do when confronted with problems, Agarwal found that many providers were not following basic guideline practices. The reasons behind this spanned from inadequate training to the expense of costly procedures.
Agarwal wants data collection such as this to become routine so that providers recognize what errors are being made repeatedly.
Department of Biomedical Engineering and Carey School of Business Assistant Professor Dr. Youseph Yazdi discussed his experiences developing new devices.
“Actually sit down and listen to try to figure out what the real problem is. Lots of people are out there solving the wrong problem, so listening is the first step, it is this critical part,” Yazdi said.
He encouraged students to use a spiral rather than linear model when developing technology: rather than beginning with an idea and working from there, he said students ought to take into consideration the organizational, clinical, technical and commercial factors. Yazdi also noted the importance of reevaluation during the process.
“Don’t waste time. Do the initial stuff first, and if it still makes sense, then move on,” he said.
After their introductions, the faculty participants engaged in a short question and answer session with the attendees.
“I had never attended a Triple Helix event before, and I think this was great event that should help them get more well-known. I was expecting a more formal panel discussion, but it was also nice how the panel turned into a more informal group talk,” senior Jai Lakhanpal said.
The Triple Helix utilized the event as a venue to launch their annual publication, The Science in Society Review.
“We don’t usually do a launch event like this. Last year, we just distributed our publication around campus. We thought combining this with an event this year would be more interesting though,” Sanghi said.
The Triple Helix members hope to host a similar event in the future, and are focusing on efforts to expand their audience.
“I thought the event was really good. I especially liked Dr. Yazdi’s emphasis on listening to the patient and problem solving. It’s really simple advice, but very profound,” Anisha Contractor, a graduate student at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said.