For better or worse, healthcare and finances are inherently entwined. Innovative techniques are expensive, but funding them is necessary to continue forging new frontiers in medical science. The five entrepreneurs profiled below thrive at the intersection of commerce and healthcare; both disciplines require vision, daring, and a break with the past in order to chart the future.
The current medical market is dominated by the pharmaceutical industry. Prescription drug use is at an all-time high, factoring into over 75% of all doctors’ office visits in the U.S. In fact, almost half of Americans have used at least one prescription drug within the past month. So, the smart investment is to bet big on big pharma, right? Wrong, says Howard Leonhardt. He sees the current drug zeitgeist as toxic to the human body, instead of engineering new ways for our organs to repair themselves. Leonhardt’s research focuses on the seemingly divergent concentrations of stem cells and electrical manipulation. By stimulating a patient’s own tissue, it could restore the health of his or her kidney, heart, and even brain matter. The applications could help to combat such afflictions as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease, contributing to Leonhardt’s overall goal of extending the average human’s life expectancy by 30 years.
Brain health is also at the forefront of another medical entrepreneur’s cutting-edge research. Kunal Ghosh and his team at Inscopix have pioneered the use of microscopic cameras to record our gray matter in real time. This technology can map up to 1,200 neurons at a time, detailing how they fire in healthy times so that we may better understand afflictions that threaten our mental health. Seeing as how neurological issues account for more than $1.5 trillion dollars in American expenditures every year, this technology solves immense problems for both the scientific and economic sectors of our nation. But Ghosh’s innovations have applications that extend beyond the medical realm; by studying the brain’s facial recognition abilities, for instance, he hopes to replicate this cognitive process in artificial intelligence iterations for years to come.
When people think of A.I., they conjure up images of cyborgs with synthetic skin, but Jonathan Palley is more interested in threads. He has developed a line of tracking devices that attach to users’ clothing and monitor biometrics like heart rate, breathing, and sleep patterns. These “Health Tags” are as responsive as they are durable; just throw them in the wash and forget that you’re even attached to the future of medical science. Unlike intrusive fitness bracelets or smartphone apps, Health Tags only alert you when there’s a problem. Out of mind and truly out of sight.
The next innovator on our list drew inspiration from personal experience. After enduring the rigors of childbirth, Jill Bigelow suffered from pelvic complications for which there were almost no remedies. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, so Jill turned her tragedy into triumph by creating the Mama Strut, an abdominal device built to support a new mom’s tender midsection. The soft brace fits its wearer comfortably and can be outfitted with hot or cold compresses, but its applications soon expanded beyond the maternity set. The device also benefits patients who have undergone a host of orthopedic, gynecological and urological complications. Bigelow’s invention spawned a business called PELV-ICE, which has sold the Mama Strut in five continents and is now covered by private insurance plans as well as Medicaid.
Dr. William Binder
Unlike Bigelow’s path to success, some are less direct (but equally revelatory). Dr. William Binder changed the face of cosmetic surgery back in the 1980’s when he helped popularize the use of Botox to unfurl facial wrinkles… but he soon discovered another application for the injections. Dr. Binder learned that Botox also offers relief for migraine headaches, and the FDA finally caught up to his lead and approved its use in 2010.
But his legacy was far from over. Binder studied the science of 3D imaging and applied them to his groundbreaking work in the field of facial reconstruction. By scanning the contours of the patient’s face, he was able to invent a new submalar cheek implant that adheres more naturally to the human form. Designed by computers but more lifelike than traditional implants, Binder’s submalar creations volumize their recipient’s face rather than perching awkwardly beneath the skin. He is a leader in the lucrative world of plastic surgery, an industry that boasts over 4 million procedures a year in the U.S. alone.
Every surgical procedure inevitably carries with it the ever-present risk of infection, which is why we round out our list with Chuck Dunn, a pioneer in the field of sterilization. His landmark use of short wavelength ultraviolet lights (UV-C) proved revolutionary in the quest to disinfect large hospital spaces. Dunn and his cohorts at Tru-D Smart UVC built a squad of robots to serve as the front line against bacteria by scrambling their DNA. The robots enter an operating room, emit UVC lights for approximately half an hour, and then stand back! Since the light beams consist of shorter wavelengths, they are able to bounce across every surface and penetrate heretofore hard to reach areas, sterilizing the entire room better than old-fashioned human scrubbing ever could. In fact, the robots were able to reduce bacterial infection by 30%. This procedure not only saves money in future health complications, it could also save lives.
Along the circuitous continuum between benevolence and profit, the above entrepreneurs are navigating a new tomorrow where healing and market growth go hand in hand. Affecting real change requires vision, and vision must be realized with a healthy dose of capital. Investing in one field could yield big dividends in the other.