Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Erik Prabowo: Bringing green idea to surgery


Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Wed, 11/19/2008 10:58 AM | People

Erik Prabowo truly epitomizes the Confucius saying "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". While working the graveyard shift at Dr. Kariadi Hospital in Semarang one night in September 2007, the resident doctor read a poster on the wall to pass the time.

It advertised an international competition, run by German-based healthcare supplier B. Braun Melsungen, which sought out new and innovative ways to seal surgical wounds. He made some notes and launched an Internet search the next day.

This initial curiosity eventually saw him become the national winner and receive prize money of 5,000 euro last Tuesday from the B. Braun group. Erik is now headed for the international stage, and on Dec. 5 he will join researchers, medical professionals and designers from around the globe in Berlin for the announcement of the international winner.

"It feels like I have won the lottery. I thought it was a great competition, dealing with a problem many doctors face with stitches, and I was curious about innovations in these technologies," he said.

Born in Pekanbaru, Riau province in 1978, Erik applied to study medicine in 1996 to follow in the footsteps of his father, an army surgeon. He received his medical degree from Semarang's Diponegoro University in 2000.

An interest in computers almost saw him study electrical engineering at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), but somewhat in a twist of fate, he failed the entrance test. Despite ending up highly successful, Erik had some personal fears that weren't really suited to a career in medicine. While performing his first ever surgical procedure in 2002, he fainted at the sight of all the blood.

"If I had to choose, I'd rather putter around with computers than read books," he said.

Following four months' of research, Erik submitted an abstract of his paper titled "Go Green Circle Sutures" to the competition.

The competition had invited surgeons, scientists from various disciplines and designers to submit ideas in the categories "natural science and technology", "medicine and handling" and "design and function". Erik had chosen the category which related to his daily routine; "design and function".

"This category suited my role as a doctor and a student."

Between his residency at Dr. Kariadi Hospital and studies at Diponegoro University, he managed to squeeze in time to submit the full paper two hours before the deadline on July 15.

Erik's paper was among the 20 submissions from Indonesia, but the jury panel selected Erik's paper as the national winner based on it's clarity, applicability and efficiency.

"He has a clear concept, and it is applicable. Many papers also had good concepts, but they lacked application," said Djoni Darmajaya, one of the jurors.

"He offered a solution for the 'memory effect', which is a stiffness condition of sutures. This idea deserved a reward.

"Another interesting aspect of his design was that he investigated the use of biodegradable materials. I think he has the potential to win on the international stage," Djoni added.

Erik decided to "go green" by adopting environmentally-friendly materials for his design, and by shaping and reducing the size of conventional stitches to emit less energy in production.

By changing the form of the exterior foil in conventional packaging from rectangular to circular, Erik was able to reduce the size by up to 40 percent.

Furthermore, he replaced the petroleum-based plastic packaging with a bioplastic that can be reused and easily recycled.

For the first time, his design made it possible to place a used needle back into the suture holder. This achievement means hospitals can now send steel needles back to their manufacturing companies to be recycled.

"Used needles and other contaminated materials are usually burned in an incinerator. In fact, they can be recycled and this will save energy."

Erik said he had examined other suture samples with environmental considerations -- reduce, reuse and recycle -- in mind before he made the decision to use polylactic acid made from maize and soybeans as the materials for his design.

"Many manufacturers are only paying the environmental-friendly issue lip service ... Medical products are usually recommended by doctors, and many people do not care about the environmental impact."

B. Braun Medical Indonesia's president director A. Manogaran hailed Erik's ability to promote the environment in his design.

"A century ago, physicians still stitched wounds with sutures made from mutton's intestines. Today, a broad range of materials are available enabling not only the best care for the body, but also the environment," said A Manogaran.

The 30-year-old doctor will join 27 other international contestants at the award ceremony supported by the German and British national surgeons' associations.

The competition itself was held by the company to commemorate the introduction of industrially produced, sterile sutures by B. Braun exactly 100 years ago.

First prize takes home 100,000 euros, with 50,000 and 25,000 euro prizes for second and third-place winners respectively.

"I was interested in the competition because I wanted to know about the future of wound closure. It is great to know there are others who share my passion."

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