11/15/19

Health Make-A-Thon finalist applauds innovation steps for patients

Health Make-A-Thon organizers invite all Illinois residents – a broader reach this time – to submit ideas by early January for improving human health to the second annual Illinois Health Make-a-Thon competition. About a year after submitting an idea for Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s first Health Make-A-Thon, April Yasunaga, MD, speaks as if all the excitement happened today.

One of 10 finalists last year, the idea from Dr. Yasunaga and Jay Anderson continues to move forward thanks to University of Illinois Bioengineering students working on their capstone project who “ran with it.”

“Their full-time job is to be students and learners. This gave them the opportunity to put the rubber to the road, to explore, to add their perspective,” said the former primary care provider who now focuses on palliative care.

Organizers invite all Illinois residents – a broader reach this time – to submit ideas by early January for improving human health to the second annual Illinois Health Make-a-Thon competition. The 10 best ideas will receive $10,000 in Health Maker Lab resources to create a prototype of their idea.

Carle Illinois College of Medicine created the competition to democratize health innovation. Marty Burke, associate dean for research at Carle Illinois, said those with the best ideas are often not trained scientists, but citizens who live with health issues day after day. 

“We’re empowering people to get involved in the quality of their own care by saying we believe that everyone has good ideas and we want to hear them,” Burke said.

“Literally anyone with an idea for improving human health has a chance to access our maker lab resources where our experts will guide them through concepting, designing, making, failing and trying again.”

Dr. Yasunaga and her husband got their idea from a relative’s ongoing health challenges.

Cancer treatment and other conditions often cause lymphedema, or swelling. Compression stockings ease discomfort and help prevent complications, but they’re not always easy to get on.

Today, students are working through what’s possible to make things easier.

They’re exploring making compression stockings out of shape memory polymers and alloys that could change based on temperature. A person coping with lymphedema could warm her compression stockings in the microwave, slide them on while they’re warm and very pliable. Once in place, the stockings would revert to the shape needed to best address swelling.

“It’s important for people with lymphedema to wear their compression stockings. They try to be compliant, but it can be hard,” Dr. Yasunaga said.

She knows what’s in progress with her concept today might not be the end product, but the process is equally important.

“Otherwise, this might not have been explored. It might not be the right solution,” Dr. Yasunaga said. “The process truly fuels where you can go with an idea.”

She strongly encourages others to participate in the Health Make-A-Thon by applying online by the January 6 deadline.

“It’s an incredible experience. Everyone involved has been so supportive, connecting us all with a variety of mentors on campus,” she said. “It’s impactful for students, and it’s great from our end to engage with them.”

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