Fogarty starts innovation lab in Silicon Valley


"The first ones were very crude, they were made by me," said Thomas J. Fogarty, M.D.

It's been nearly half a century, since a tiny balloon catheter helped change the direction of vascular medicine, but its inventor still remembers how his passion for fly fishing helped him assemble the first one.

"Essentially, I used a fly-tying technique to attach the balloon to the catheter," said Fogarty.

Fogarty is a self-admitted tinkerer, the kind of guy who liked to get his hands on tools. He competed in soap box derbies and got a job as a scrub technician while still in high school.

"A scrub technician is the one who hands the instruments to the physician during an operation. So as I progressed into high school, I became pretty good at it," said Fogarty.

In fact, he was so good he was encouraged as a student to develop an instrument to open closed arteries.

"A light bulb did go off and I pursued it and it worked," said Fogarty.

Now with roughly 150 patents for dozens of technologies, the 79-year-old Fogarty is moving from inventor to mentor. He is directing the newly-expanded Fogarty Institute For Innovation at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View. It's an incubator lab for medical startups like Clear Ear -- company with a better and safer way to remove ear wax.

"What we've done is we have the base unit system that heats up the water so that patients won't undergo the dizziness that they sometimes undergo during the current procedure," said Lily Truong, the CEO of Clear Ear.

As for criteria, he says the ideas have to be affordable, practical and enhance patient care. Medical degrees are optional.

"If it's a physician, I show them the door. They go in the operating room and everybody does pretty much what the surgeon tells them to do, so they don't tolerate input very well," said Fogarty.

The innovation includes education as well as technology. Max Goldschwartz of Vida Systems is developing a virtual anatomy system known as VidaEcho that allows students to absorb anatomy as if they were flying through the body.

"It is full 3D, fully immersive 3D and layered, meaning you can turn on and off parts, slice it in real time," said Goldschwartz.

Nine start-ups are now sharing the 14,000-foot lab facility, including five just added this summer. All are encouraged to take risks, which Fogarty sees as the key to innovation.

"Innovation is really a form of insanity. You see things other people don't see, often you hear things that other people don't hear and you do things nobody else will do," said Fogarty.

Fogarty's approach has not gone unnoticed. In 2001, he was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

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