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How Did Micro Medical Technology Get So Small?

Question: What was your first medical invention?


Dean Kamen: When I was still in my parents’ basement, busily making money doing our audio visual stuff, I had an older brother at the time who was off in medical school and he’s an extremely bright guy, doing both an MD and a PhD program, and his PhD work was in developing therapies for pediatrics, in fact neonatal cancer patients, babies with leukemia. And he was developing the drug therapy for this neonatal but they are so small. They weigh a couple of pounds. There was no practical equipment out there for him to deliver his therapy.

So, he dropped in the basement on a trip home from med school and whinning and complaining about his lack of equipment designed for babies. It wasn’t surprising to me that there is not a lot of equipment for babies because fortunately, they are not a very large piece of the medical population. Fortunately, old people get sick; babies don’t normally have that problem. But I get sit on the basement and imagine that I could build tiny, tiny, little drug delivery systems essentially using a syringe, for instance, as a whole base of drugs instead of an IV bottle.

So, I built for my brother some little devices that used the syringe as the reservoir and built some electronics in control systems that would allow him to program those things for drug delivery, for his research.

I think he was very proud of my stuff. I certainly wasn’t doing that as business. I was helping my brother. But he would take it to med school with him, and he ended up doing a little time at Harvard, where there are a lot of doctors up in Boston. And he ended up doing a residency in Yale where he met a lot of the adult docs. And one of these docs, at one point said, that little thing is so small it’s great that it sits in a nice set moving around with babies. But it’s so small, you could slap it on a belt or put it on a pocket of an adult who can work around getting chronic therapy for things that might dramatically improve their outcome. Like what? How about insulin for diabetics?

So, suddenly I took this core technology that I develop for this very rare disease--lots of people will never have to deal with pediatric cancer--and it would serve a very, very broad population of people walking around needing high insulin to deal with diabetes.

So we modified the pumps, we moved out of the basement. We started making lots of different pharmaceutical delivery systems. And we ended up building a nice company around that and until this day, we continue to build stuff for home dialysis, diabetes cares. He build lots of products related to helping people get both better therapy and live better lives simultaneously.


Conducted on: June 9, 2009.



Dean Kamen shares how he adapted one of his inventions, a tiny drug delivery system for neonatal cancer patients, for adults with other conditions.

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