Sarosh Madhani, MBBS '18, wasn’t expecting to learn an important lesson about innovation on a busy construction site. It was the summer of 2013 and his father, a civil engineer by profession, had arranged a viewing of an under-construction building on the University’s campus.
Sarosh, a teenager at the time, was observing the interlocking sets of steel rods and concrete pillars on the site when one of his father’s engineering colleagues, Saleem, came up to see him. He asked Sarosh what he wanted to be when he grew up and smiled as he heard his immediate response: “A doctor.”
Sarosh was pleasantly surprised by Saleem’s response. Gesturing upwards, Saleem asked Sarosh to take a closer look at the structure of the facility, which now houses the Centre for Innovation in Medical Education (CIME).
“If you think about it, this under-construction building is similar to the human body. The steel rods are its skeleton, the plaster on the walls its skin. Soon it will have a ventilation system that pumps air around just like your lungs. Can you guess which part of the building represents its ‘blood vessels?"
Sarosh’s eyes shot up and across different parts of the structure as his mind drew connections between the two fields. “The blood vessels push blood through the body which means they would be like the building’s plumbing system,” he replied as Saleem smiled and nodded in agreement.
Sarosh remembers the conversation as being a ‘lightbulb moment’ that demystified something unfamiliar and made him curious about something new, engineering. A few years later at medical school, Sarosh experienced a similar sense of excitement after hearing an idea that spanned the areas of cardiology and hardware engineering.
He was watching a television show set in a busy hospital where a young doctor discussed the possibility of ‘building’ heart tissue with the help of a 3D printer. He wondered if the idea could be extended to his area of interest, neurosurgery, to create parts of the brain which had been damaged by degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and dementia.
Inspired, Sarosh went on to present the idea at an Ignite session, organised by AKU’s Critical Creative Innovative Thinking Forum (CCIT), which encourages students and faculty to present unconventional solutions to healthcare challenges to an audience of aspiring innovators. His presentation Need A Brain? Just Print It! prompted a series of discussions with entrepreneurs, engineers and IT professionals during and after the event.
“Everyone was excited by the idea but there was a problem in how we went about discussing a solution. Many people were talking over each other and every one was speaking in jargon,” Sarosh remembers. “Besides the communication gap there was also a sense of competition with people trying to convince the others they had the ‘right’ solution. It got me thinking about how to foster a collaborative spirit when you have so many intelligent people working together.”
Sarosh didn’t have to wait long for inspiration. It came in his final year of medical school during a month-long internship in neurosurgery at the Jacobs Institute at the University at Buffalo in New York. The internship enabled him to be part of a programme which gave non-medical professionals a chance to immerse themselves in neurosurgery and to witness the everyday challenges of treating patients. Sarosh remembers that the programme, which was run by AKU alumnus Adnan Siddiqui, MBBS '92, focused on developing an open environment where everyone’s perspective was welcome.
“You could feel that people were really listening to each other, inviting each other’s opinions and trying to understand one another person’s point of view. They weren’t thinking of their responses when someone else was speaking,” he said.
For example, he remembers an exchange between a vascular surgeon and an electrical engineer that compared the body’s nervous system to an electrical grid. He noted that the brain acted as the body’s ‘central processing unit’ which sent signals throughout the nervous system to various parts of the body. A fault in the nervous system was akin to a fault in the wiring of an electric network which affected the system’s ability to function.
“There was a real collaborative spirit. You could sense that people were seeking insights from other disciplines to solve the challenges in front of them,” he recalls.
Sarosh continues to believe that there is immense potential for innovation in medicine and is developing a programme, Collision Course, at AKU’s CCIT that fosters a similar environment of inter-disciplinary teamwork.
Collision Course is still in the early stages of development but Sarosh, now community manager at CCIT, envisions a programme where entrepreneurs, IT professionals and problem-solvers from a variety of fields come together to tackle the healthcare challenges around them.
“We think of Collision Course as being like an invitation to innovate.” Just like at the Jacobs Institute, Sarosh aims to set up an immersion programme that will take advantage of the facilities at the University’s teaching hospital to encourage diverse groups of experts to work together.
“Anyone can think up an idea in isolation. But developing solutions to problems requires many minds to come together. It is often said that innovation occurs at the intersections of disciplines. Creating an environment which encourages cooperation and communication is a vital, first step on that journey,” Sarosh notes.