Creating an environment ripe for disruptive innovation requires shaking up how things are usually done.

Take our commitment to public engagement. By establishing pipelines for citizen scientists to collaborate with our students and faculty, we’re exponentially increasing the volume of ideas. Then, with our Health Maker Lab network, the best ideas can quickly be prototyped into life-changing solutions.

Professor Martin Burke:

Inviting everyone to the table to help improve health for all

“There are 7.7 billion people on the planet, and probably the one thing we all have in common is our desire to be healthy,” said Martin “Marty” Burke, MD PhD, Carle Illinois associate dean for research and professor of chemistry.

When Marty thinks about the power of harnessing all of that collective interest in good health right here in Champaign-Urbana, he gets really excited.

“I’m a big advocate of leveling the playing field. When an area democratizes its discovery engine, really powerful innovations can happen.”

In his own research lab, Carle Illinois associate dean for research Marty Burke, MD PhD, focuses on “molecular prosthetics”. He and his lab team hope their findings will lead to a new class of medicines that can treat human diseases caused by missing proteins.

We have to empower 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, we’re hopefully changing the way people think about health problems.

—Marty Burke, Carle Illinois associate dean for research

As an example, Marty pointed to the tech industry. When coding languages were made available to everyone, people of all ages and education levels began to identify problems and create innovations to improve lives.

“Just imagine the innovative ideas and solutions we’ll have in the medical field if we can tear these walls down and open up the sandbox to let everyone come in to share ideas and look for solutions,” Marty said.

The “sandbox” in this case is the Health Maker Lab at Illinois, which provides access to a full range of technology and equipment for creating prototypes of any idea. Carle Illinois-sponsored contests and events like Health Make-a-thons offer clear entry points for anyone to submit an idea, which may be chosen to be developed into a real prototype.

Yusi Gong, Carle Illinois College of Medicine medical student
Yusi Gong, a member of the Carle Illinois inaugural class, and Gwendolyn Derk (not pictured), student at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign, were among ten winning ideas at the 2019 Health Make-a-Thon. Their idea, a smart toilet that can conduct 24-hour urine analysis, would enable key insights into valuable areas of human health.
Dena Strong, Health Make-a-Thon winner
After watching her parents struggle to coordinate her father’s complex health conditions, Dena Strong was inspired by programmable cat feeders to develop the programmable medicine dispenser, which she introduced at the 2019 Health Make-a-Thon. Her idea was among ten winning ideas at the 2019 Health Make-a-Thon.

“We want this to be everyone’s medical school—a place where anyone who wants to revolutionize health care can come be a part of it,” Marty said. “This is where the concept of training physician-innovators comes in. It starts with our incredible medical students…and spreads to all 7.7 billion people in the world.”

“If we can figure out how to leverage all that collective, life-experience-driven creativity, there will be no end to the good ideas being pursued here.”