You should make a medical device.

Internal image of a human mitral valve.

Have you ever considered learning medicine? Unless you work in a medical field, the answer is probably no. You would be more likely to invest time in a technological skill like machine learning, web development, or robotics. It is a shame that this division exists.

Medicine continues to be secluded from the general public. This limits dissemination of information, capacity for innovation, and proper utilization. How can we bring these fields to an open stage where those with diverse skill-sets can offer solutions?

Step one must be providing adequate learning materials to the public. Medical textbooks exist, and so does Wikipedia, but these are not suitable for building a collaborative environment for discovery. Consider this image from Netter’s book on cardiology.

There is a lot of information here, but it is not very helpful or satisfying. You are not going to be able to advance the cardiac field with this diagram alone.

So do you then need to go to medical school and learn years of physiology and anatomy before you can think of creative solutions to cardiac problems? Definitely not! Let’s briefly explore this now.

The heart is fundamentally a pump. It is soft and it moves and it pushes blood around with its muscle.

Blood that needs to be oxygenated gets pumped to the lungs. (Blue side of the heart.) It them comes back to the heart and gets pumped to the body. (Red side of the heart.)

To make sure that blood always moves in the same direction, the heart is equipped with four one-way valves which flap open and closed as it beats.

That’s not a lot of information, but we can work with this.

Now what we really need is to see what a heart actually looks like and explore it. That’s tough, because it isn’t easy to get your hands on a human heart. Luckily, we can find some videos that help.

Here is a video inside a real beating human heart. (This is inside the left ventricle, which you can find on the previous drawn image.) It is no longer inside a person. Although it couldn’t be transplanted, it was able to be reanimated on an external perfusion pump.

The valve on the left is the aortic valve. If you follow it, you will follow oxygenated blood being delivered to the body.

On the right is the mitral valve. Go through that opening and you will travel against the flow of blood to the lungs.

Things can go wrong with both of these structures, but let’s focus on the aortic valve. If the aortic valve becomes calcified (perhaps as a result of smoking), you might need to get a new artificial valve.

For this you have roughly two options: invasive surgery where it is necessary to open the patient’s ribcage and suture in a new valve, or deliver a valve through a catheter using an artery in the leg. In the latter case you might choose to give the patient a Medtronic CoreValve.

Here is an image of it delivered. An okay representation. Notice how it is designed to leave arteries on the left and right side unobstructed. Block those and your heart stops! Be careful!

But we can visualize this better too. Here is another video showing an actual CoreValve being delivered in a reanimated human heart:

In this case the valve was delivered quite well. Probably because it was easy to see exactly where the valve was! But can you think of anything that can go wrong?

The valve could be delivered too high or too low. If it is too low, notice how it could adversely intrude on the space of the mitral valve. You would need to take this case into account when you create a device like this!

And notice the imaging on the bottom of the screen. This is what physicians will see during a procedure. This makes incorrect delivery much more likely.

So maybe your role isn’t designing the next artificial valve. Maybe you should come up with a new procedure or imaging modality that ensures correct valve placement. I don’t have the solution for you, but if you are a plummer, I’ll bet you have some ideas.

Further considerations might be: How does the valve material interact with blood? (Clot consideration) How long does a valve like this last? How much does this valve move on each heartbeat? Are replacement valves needed for other valves in the heart? Can a valve like this be squeezed into a smaller delivery catheter?

So in a very short period of time we now have a list of important problems that can begin to be explored by only knowing a few anatomical regions that are listed in the first Netters diagram.

Part of getting here, though, was having the ability to see real anatomy without just memorizing lots of labeled regions. This can be difficult to come by. In our lab, we are doing our best to help with this. The functional heart videos here all come from the Visible Heart Laboratory’s Atlas of Human Cardiac Anatomy, but there is so much more than can be done.

Without resources like this, bringing health related fields to an open-source environment is tricky.

Data is abundant, but hidden. And the teaching and learning platforms for this have yet to take advantage of this new collaborative culture.

So if you are someone who is technically or mechanically skilled, consider bringing the medical sciences into your repertoire, because there are surprisingly few people who can apply what you know to these fields.

And if you are considering the startup route, here are two free ideas: GitHub or Kaggle for medical problems. (Kaggle actually has a lot of medical datasets, so maybe start there and bring the theory behind these challenges to a larger audience.)

If a community of technological medical practitioners can break through into mainstream, there is great potential for creating an ecosystem where medical technology breakthroughs start to match the exponential growth that is the mainstream technology industry.

So get out there, incentivize learning, add source control to medical problems, and make some money. More than anything, it might be a nice way to take your future medical treatment into your own hands.