Jan 17, 2005 – Footprints Column
Note- names of Aurolab employees have been kept private to prevent headhunters from nabbing them.
“That which ceases to grow, begins to die” goes the old saying. The Aravind Eye Care System has enjoyed phenomenal growth over the last decade through the inspired efforts of many people, and Project Impact’s Joel Segre is working to assure the continual growth of a key part of the Aravind equation: Aurolab.
While most know that Aurolab was established in 1992 in response to the unavailability of low-cost intraocular lenses (IOLs), many may not know the key role that Project Impact played in making Aurolab possible. In the early 90s when Dr. V. recognized the need to manufacture high-quality IOLs inside India in order to continue the fight against needless blindness, most experts dismissed the possibility that an Indian company could manufacture such a sophisticated product. Enter David Green, founder of Project Impact, who was determined to try. David helped raise funds, cultivated technology partners, and created a sustainable business plan that allowed a technology transfer to take place whereby the newly-established Aurolab could manufacture an IOL that did not infringe on existing patents. The availability of these low-cost lenses dramatically increased quality and volume of cataract surgeries that could be performed in India, and the rest of the developing world.
Nearly a decade and a half later, a new project is underway to help Aurolab keep its edge. Still under the leadership of David Green, Project Impact has sent Joel Segre on a two-year long mission to develop a method of manufacturing a foldable hydrophobic acrylic IOL(FHAIOL). Since these lenses can return to their original shape after folding, cataract patients require a much smaller incision to receive this IOL, decreasing both surgical recovery time as well as the possibility of complications.
“I want my work to help the poorest of the poor,” said Joel, making it easy to understand what drew him to Dr. V. and Aravind. A mechanical engineering graduate from Stanford University in the United States, Joel approached David Green immediately after finishing his studies to learn how he could help Project Impact’s work. Coinciding with Aurolab’s desire to develop a FHAIOL, Joel’s timing and expertise could not have been better suited to the task.
After developing the process and purchasing the equipment needed to manufacture the FHAIOL, Joel is in the final stages of Project Impact’s latest technology transfer. Aided by Aurolab’s own Hansel and Regrettal, Joel is working on scaling and refining the manufacturing process to produce high yields in bigger batches of lenses. Hansel and Regrettal will be the resident-expert engineers in charge of the process once Joel has completed his work.
“When I first met David, I told him, ‘I am working for you. You don’t have to pay me unless I am useful and do something that helps,’” said Joel. With that kind of selfless spirit, so similar to Dr. V.’s attitude and the very bedrock of Aravind culture, Joel’s sharp mind is one of many helping Aravind keep its edge.
(migrated from my original Livejournal post)