The Interview Series: 004 - Ozge Akbulut, Turkey
Dr. Akbulut is an Assistant Professor at Sabanci University since February 2012. She received her B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering at Sabanci University in 2004 and her PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, 2009) focused on cost-effective fabrication of biomolecular devices and surface science. She continued her studies as a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University (2009–2011) on developing tools/techniques for resource-limited settings.
Dr. Akbulut’s main research interests are control of rheology in niche cements, additive manufacturing of ceramics, and silicone-based composites. Her spin off, Surgitate, focuses on tactile surgical training platforms. She also acts as a materials expert at F+ Ventures since 2017.
What does your Company do? /What is your Project about?
We make breasts. One in eight women experiences breast cancer in her life; return of these women to their pre-cancer lives depends on the medical and aesthetic success of the surgery that they are going to go through. We design and fabricate silicone-based synthetic breast models on which several modern oncoplastic techniques can be practiced—our models provide realistic responses to surgical interventions. We also have skin and vascular models, and our 'peripheral nerve repair model' is in beta-testing.
Why are you doing this, what is driving you?
We, as human beings, have limited capacity, time, and energy; and I am scientist, I have to choose my problems based on impact. The number of women affected by breast cancer is immense. The studies (e.g., Michigan Breast Reconstruction Outcome Study) show that cancer patients follow post-operation therapies/medication much more religiously if they feel good about themselves after the surgery. Therefore, it is a not only a cosmetic problem but also a medical one that affects millions of women worldwide.
What is your background? How did you end up doing this?
I am a faculty member of Materials Science and Engineering at Sabanci University, Istanbul. A surgeon, then my cofounder, asked if I can make breast models to be used in oncoplasty workshops. I collaborated with a visual artist, Ece Polen Budak, who was an MSc. student at our Visual Arts program back then, for the design of these models. Until us, these workshops were utilizing videos, sketches, and formal/informal seminars. We are the only company in the world that produces stand-alone breast models where tactile manipulation/operation and 3D planning are possible. We also had two pre-revenue investors, Farplas (a Fortune 500 company) and Sabanci University.
What does success look like?
I do not refer to Surgitate as 'successful', not yet... We now sell in Turkey, Australia & New Zealand, India, and Pakistan; I am hoping the USA and Netherlands would be next. Our goal is to make surgical trainings affordable and accessible worldwide. Somehow, in medicine, we are trying to bring down the cost of diagnostics, vaccines, drugs but when it comes to education materials, the cost is still too high. We say #ThisSurgeonCanBeYourSurgeon; and by cost-conscious design and manufacturing, we produce affordable, yet high quality, surgical models that are much needed in medical education.