Bio-Inspiration and Medical Innovations

Spiderman! The perfect example of stealing from nature. A spider’s web is used to catch criminals.

Jeff Karp is not a specialist, instead he has between twenty to twenty-five ongoing projects. A multidisciplinary approach to create biomaterials and devices for therapeutics.

The Karp Lab uses bio-inspiration to develop ideas. Their innovations do not mimic nature, biomimicry,  instead Jeff and his colleagues improve and develop ideas based upon nature.

Porcupine quills provided inspiration for developing better surgical staples (quills or spines are hair coated with plates of keratin). North American porcupines have around 30,000 quills. The quills have backward-facing sharp points, barbs, which means that they are very hard to remove from the skin. They catch on to tissues and create an enormous drag.  A staple was developed that had reduced penetration  force and increased pullout force.

Stekelvarken_Aiguilles_Porc-épicPorcupine quills

Another innovation that has been developed by the Karp Lab, is a battery that is child-safe. Every year thousands of children swallow small button-shaped batteries, these accidents are sometimes fatal. The battery has a special coating that prevents it from causing harm if swallowed by a child. A special coating on the battery ensures that electricity is only conducted when the battery is squeezed, for example, inside its spring-loaded compartment. Thus, the insulating coating makes the battery inactive and safe.

Many of the problems the health care world are facing are different from problems in nature. Nevertheless, inspiration for ideas can be found more or less anywhere. Jeff believes that innovations happens in the interface between different disciplines and bioengineers at the Karp Lab work together with other scientists and clinicians.

The real challenge is understanding the problem. So defining what the clinical and biological requirements are, is a vital starting point for any project.Limiations and drawbacks of existing technology as well as a risk calculation of what it takes to develop ideas are also vital components in the innovative process.

What to challenge yourself? You find a challenge about creative thinking and redefining a problem here.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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