Dr. Akbulut completed her PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and then joined Harvard University in the United States for her postdoctoral studies. In 2012, she returned to her alma mater, Sabanci University in Turkey, as an assistant professor.
She talks to WIPO Magazine about her work and the challenges of innovation in an emerging economy.
When did you start inventing?
Becoming an inventor was really a natural consequence of being an engineer. But I was always a very curious child and had very supportive parents. What really inspires me is how science and technology makes it possible to find solutions to tackle some of the major problems facing humanity. It is only with innovative solutions that we can solve these problems.
As a scientist, I think it is critically important to invest in finding solutions to the technological challenges facing society. After all, my research is supported by taxpayers’ money. People fund research because they believe scientists will produce something that will improve their lives. Society-driven research is really important to me.
I started making surgical models through pure chance. In my postdoctoral work at Harvard, I focused on medical applications of materials science to develop tools and techniques for resource-limited settings. A few years later, I met a thoracic surgeon who asked if I could make models of breasts to train surgeons in oncoplastic surgery (reconstructive surgery after a lumpectomy). Breast cancer is a global problem – it affects one in eight women – so this really caught my attention. And with new diagnostic tools, many younger women are being treated for breast cancer so it is really important that they can adapt and continue their lives. I really liked the idea of being able to have an impact on global health education.
To cut a long story short, I was lucky enough to meet a brilliant visual artist, Ece Budak, who together with her local women’s group helped me create the molds. When she presented me with a full box of breast models, it was one of the best engineering moments of my life. That’s how we started. We worked very closely with surgeons to develop the models according to their specific needs. Beta testing of the first model involved multiple iterations and took six months.
I co-founded Surgitate with Barkin Eldem MD in 2014. We specialize in making realistic models of tissue and organs so trainee surgeons can practice their surgical technique. Our...