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To Become A Tech Innovator, You Must Question Basic Beliefs

Written by: Youssef El Azouzi, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Youssef El Azouzi

In the heat of the moment, during the fall of 2019, I was in the final round, vying for first place in an international, televised competition that had begun with approximately 2000 participants. This wasn’t your usual competition, rather one that would determine who would win the title for the best tech innovator in the Middle East & North Africa Region. At times, criticisms that even reached personal levels on social media started becoming louder and louder in an effort to sway audience voters towards one of the final 3 candidates.

One chess pieces staying against full set of chess pieces.

My invention, which I hope will one day save the lives of millions of people suffering from heart failure as an affordable alternative to artificial heart pumps, was at times being challenged by conventional wisdom echoed in particular by a prominent Jordanian cardiologist who was watching and commenting on the fierce competition. Continuously, he would make posts on social media warning the judges who would appear on the televised show. “If you choose him for first place, this will be an absolute disaster and embarrassment for your program!”, he would exclaim. Despite my attempt to privately reach out to the cardiologist in order to discuss his points of contention, I hadn’t received a response. He very passionately held his position and was dead-set on his quest to prevent my project from being considered for first place because conventional wisdom at the time stated in unambiguous terms that treatment of any heart failure patient needed to involve the reduction of blood pressure to relatively low levels.


This was in stark contrast to my proposed solution, which involved doing the opposite and in fact proposed elevating blood pressure in certain patients. Although my solution involved restoring blood supply to the kidneys, organs which plays an important role in heart failure, it was still considered blasphemous according to many cardiologists because it involved increasing the amount of blood pressure or resistance that the heart would need to pump against in order to distribute oxygen-rich blood forward. The fact that I was 25 years old and hadn’t even graduated from medical school yet when this concept was conceived also did not help my case against the routine practices of senior cardiology professors and certainly did not put me in a credible position to question established, 40-year old principles in modern clinical medicine. In the eyes of many heart specialists at the time in fact, me suspecting that relatively higher blood pressure levels was actually better for the outcome of numerous heart failure patients was as comical a notion as me proposing that a sugary diet would help treat diabetes.


To my surprise however, despite relentless attacks on the concept I had introduced, my name was pronounced as the 2019 winner of the competition due to the final decision of the judges and audience. But little did I, the judges or the audience know that the results of a major clinical study would emerge the following year, creating a paradigm shift in heart failure treatment and vindicating our position. The PARAGON trial, which was the largest clinical trial for heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, revealed that patients who had less than a 120 systolic blood pressure did not do well and that it was essential to preserve blood pressure in half of the approximately 64 million people who suffer from heart failure around the world. Although this may seem like interesting timing to say the least, it is part of my belief that the universe works in sometimes mysterious ways and that things happen for a reason. But this discovery also demonstrated that innovation, especially in healthcare, demands the questioning of the most basic presumptions and beliefs. It is thus not a coincidence that some of the most profound findings and breakthroughs in medicine actually involve resisting the tide of conformity, even when your reputation and status is in jeopardy. It is also not a coincidence that although advanced electronics, internet of things devices and AI consititute important breakthroughs in healthcare, a minimum dose of challenging perceived fundamental truths can lead to significantly more patient impact and should therefore not be underestimated or overlooked.


Many times, the fear of judgement and fall from grace among others is intertwined with the fear of loss in wealth and a job to live a semi-decent life. Those who are sensible but rebellious enough to follow their gut feeling never let the fear of poverty or disassociation stop them from following where their curiosity may lead them. They always have humility when approaching a potentially novel idea. They never stop asking questions, because the first step to knowledge is the good question. They realize that ideas don’t fall from the sky, and that they come from the passion to investigate and search for the truth. They are optimistic skeptics.


Although success in any entrepreneurial endeavor involves many individual circumstances intersecting at the same time, it is our job as innovators to manufacture these individual elements so that there is a statistically more favorable likelihood of convergence. For scientific entrepreneurs, stubbornness can sometimes be a virtue but can also be weaponized against oneself. The most important thing is to rather be an optimistic skeptic when it comes to new and bold ideas until definitive proof discerns between reality and false hope.


Among scientists who stood their ground in the face of sometimes personal animosity by other colleagues, some have been fortunate enough to live through an exoneration process while many others were not and thus lived the life of a stranger until they passed away in relative obscurity. But that is a discounted price to pay, especially if the person involved does not have an ego that feeds off of other people’s approval every so often.


After the competition was over and the dust settled, it became clear to me that allowing patients to benefit from my team’s work required my mind to evolve. It needed to transform from that of an inventor to one of an entrepreneur, otherwise concrete steps would never be taken in an efficient and mechanized way. So, my team and I created a medical device startup called Aorto Medical in order to build on our initiative toward revolutionizing the way heart failure is treated in hospitals. Heart failure is one of the leading causes of death in the world and we are still on our journey to bringing this important innovation to the innumerable patients suffering on a daily basis. To date, we have demonstrated the potential of this technology in animal studies and we hope to save human lives in the near future. The truth is that the best innovations in any field are simple and easy to use. This is why our flow diverting device is five times cheaper than current devices such as artificial heart pumps and we therefore continue to dream of a day when long-term heart failure treatment becomes affordable to most instead of it being reserved to less than 1% of all patients. As we continue to challenge conventional wisdom and form a constellation of fundamental and reliable truths, we invite anyone inspired to make an impact and lasting legacy as well as anyone whose loved one is or may have suffered from heart failure to support and invest in our mission for a better future.


Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Youssef El Azouzi Brainz Magazine
 

Youssef El Azouzi, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Youssef El Azouzi is a pioneering African entrepreneur in the development of ground-breaking medical devices. Through the various trials and tribulations of growing his startup, Youssef is finding his way through the complexities of bringing his invention to save the lives of millions of heart failure patients against all odds while at the same time trying to protect his small, newly born startup from the claws of giant corporations who may be willing to destroy his path to success. He has devised numerous concepts that may change the world in the near future ranging from the treatment of heart failure to the enablement of animal to human organ transplant using innovative medical technology.

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