One question I often hear when I speak about MEDIC is “Why did you decide to start this company?” It is an important question for any entrepreneur or business owner to consider. When you are up late trying to make a fancy slideset of company logos on your website, while in the midst of your first ever attempt at raising funds, and with a pile of emails you need to answer, it helps to have a reminder of why you are doing this instead of working a nine to five like a normal human being. For me, that reminder is the BiliSol.
My senior year in the biomedical engineering department at NC State, I had the opportunity to be part of a team of students dedicated to developing solutions to health problems in low income areas. The team was comprised of myself, Taylor Cook, Lauren Chisholm, Spencer Lacy, and Amber Buckalew, all students in the same program. During this adventure, we learned about a condition called neonatal jaundice.
Neonatal jaundice develops in newborns when their liver hasn’t quite developed. As a result, can’t process a natural byproduct of the body called bilirubin. As bilirubin builds up, it causes a yellowing of the skin (jaundice) and in more intense cases, the chemical can cause chronic neurologic damage or even death. This disease is very common across the globe; in fact, two out of three infants develop this disorder globally, resulting in over 100,000 infant deaths every year.
This annual death toll is a shame, because neonatal jaundice is very easy to treat. All you need to do is shine a blue light on the infant’s skin, which causes bilirubin to break down in a way that the infant can get rid of it. This process is called phototherapy. The problem is that traditional phototherapy devices cost between $4000-$6000 per unit, require specialty bulbs that are hard to come by in low income area, and all require a constant source of electricity. This therapy is not feasible in low income countries.
Over our senior year, my team developed a device we called the BiliSol. It is a simple filter that provides phototherapy using the light of the sun. It turns out, the sun’s spectrum contains the blue light required to cure neonatal jaundice. So long as you can effectively block away the harmful radiation of the sun, you can provide phototherapy free of charge (pun definitely intended)! This system requires no electricity, has no replaceable parts, and costs under $100 to build.
Once we discovered this system would work, we were ecstatic. We were going to save the world! Cure sick babies! What wasn’t there to love about that? However, life soon got in the way. We all graduated, went on to start our careers, and found it difficult to keep the project moving forward. We didn’t have the time or resources to continue developing this medical device which, it turns out, takes a lot of both! As a result the device sat on a shelf and gathered dust.
This is why I co-founded MEDIC. The BiliSol is one of thousands of potentially life-saving devices that will never make it to community hospitals and clinics because of a lack of resources. Our team thought to ourselves, “What if we could develop five of these technologies, like the BiliSol, and get them to the clinic?” This could potentially lead to 500,000 lives saved every year! Once MEDIC is running at full capacity, we will be spinning out up to five new medical technology companies every year.
The BiliSol story has a happy ending. Since the founding of MEDIC in September of 2016, we have been able to continue developing the BiliSol. In fact, in January 2017, Lauren Chisholm and myself were able to build prototypes and deliver them to communities in rural areas of Guatemala. We are continuing to push this technology forward with the help of MEDIC.
If you would like to support projects like the BiliSol and others, you can donate to our organization at medic-nc.org/support/. If you would like to join our Collaborative, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org