The 3D community has been busy during the pandemic. How have you kept your creativity flowing while working so much this past year?
This year certainly kept the team and me busy. We have been working around the clock, developing 3D-printed nasal swabs and pipettes for COVID-19 testing and converting BiPap machines to ventilators. To date we have 3D-printed more than 200,000 items to help combat the virus and aid our front-line workers. It was hard to find those spare moments, but every morning I made an effort to wake up early, make a cappuccino and sit out on the balcony of my New York City apartment overlooking the East River. Besides the amazing view, it felt surreal to soak in the morning calm, only to be interrupted by the concert of ambulances, reminding me that the world was so upside down. In those stolen moments, I did my best to reflect, think about the work we were doing and how we could help innovate even more.
How did you choose this line of work?
While I was a Ph.D. student, Northwell started its annual Innovation Challenge, pushing all team members in the health system to tackle problems creatively. Tasked with helping a patient in a car accident, we fired up our 3D printers and designed the first medical model and surgical guide for Northwell. The model and guide were for bone cement to help repair the patient’s elbow, which was severely damaged. We took top honors in the challenge and used the awarded $100,000 to fund the 3D lab we have today.
What’s the most important thing you do to encourage innovation within your team?
I encourage my team to chase down their ideas even if they may not be the most conventional. The beauty and excitement of 3D design is that there is no rule that you have to follow the XYZ protocol to achieve results. I don’t tell my team how to solve a problem; instead, I present the team with the issue, then we can brainstorm together and let them do what they do best.
Who was your role model or sponsor?
My principal investigator during my Ph.D. program was Daniel Grande of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell. He has always been there to guide and mentor me. He was the first person to show me how a Ph.D. could navigate the clinical world, converting research into the practice of healthcare. He taught me to think differently and look at challenges from all angles.
What do you see as future big innovations?
Technology is improving how we can collect and analyze data, allowing us to adjust patient care in real time—on the fly. Machine learning, AI, automation, and 3D design are having a significant positive change for patient care. Combine the technology with things like individual genetic profiles and we are leaps and bounds closer to truly personalized medicine.