Interview with: Renée Molman

When you encounter other people from Delft, there's an immediate bond.

Renee Molman

Renée Molman graduated with top marks in the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering (IDE) in 2016. As a product designer, she likes to feel that she is doing something useful: “I don't want to just churn out another app or launch a useless product on the market.”

Renée Molman was in search of a higher education programme in which she could apply her creativity. She opted for Industrial Design Engineering at TU Delft because of the medical specialisation, Medisign. “I have always been fascinated in finding out how everything in the body works. The interest in medicine is a family thing: my mother is a nurse and my sister is now studying medicine,” she explains. The design portfolio she built up during her studies also includes numerous medical projects. She came up with the idea of a ‘diabolletje’, a ball-shaped needle holder designed to make insulin injections for diabetic children feel less medical. “The assignment was to design something for someone close to you. I chose my sister, who is diabetic.”

Of course, the broad programme also covered other areas, including the special foam pots for flower arrangements that she designed as her final Bachelor's project. But things like this do not go straight into the stores as products: “Companies like to receive ideas from students on alternative ways that they could look at a product,” argues Renée. During her Master's, the medical side of things became more serious. Alongside courses in biomechanics and ergonomics, she even entered the dissection room to study anatomy: “That really allows you to see how you fit together and how your body works.” One thing quickly became clear for Renée: “Medical design still takes too little account of the needs of the user.” 

Memory balls

Patients with Alzheimer's are one example of a group often neglected until recently. “Patients in an advanced stage often suffer from apathy. It's a major problem, partly because they get less attention from nurses as a result. It's only logical that someone shouting the house down will get priority”, Renée explains. “Research has shown that apathetic patients can still respond to music, smells or images from the past.”

This is what gave her the idea of the ‘memory ball’. “It's a ball that can be filled with memories in the form of music, photographs and voices when patients are diagnosed. At the same time, this helps with the family's process of acceptance.” Renée has very personal experience of this issue. “My grandfather had it and regular visits were especially awkward. What could you still talk about? The answer was 'nice things from the past'. And later, if the patient becomes more forgetful, the ball can evoke memories and through these activity and emotions.” 


Another project involved the MIA (minimally-invasive assistant), a device designed to make laparoscopy easier. Laparoscopy – or keyhole surgery – has numerous advantages. Patients recover more quickly and the scars are smaller. Less time spent in hospital also reduces the cost. But it is far from ideal for the surgeon. With the instrument they currently use, surgeons have to stoop forward at a distance from the table. “It's a very unnatural position and 70% of users suffer problems in their neck, shoulders or fingers.”

Robots are one potential solution, but are very expensive. “MIA has similar advantages, but is much more affordable,” explains Renée. “It's a mechanical extension to the current instrument, enabling you to work sitting down. You also have more freedom of movement. This is particularly important when stitching, when you use your wrists a lot.” As well as the ergonomic advantages, learning to use it is also easier. “With the current instruments, everything is in mirror image. Our device reverses that. It hugely reduces the learning curve. Currently, it can take doctors years to learn to do advanced surgery.”

Renée became part of the project when she was graduating. It was at the UMC Utrecht Medical Centre, where head of innovation Joris Jaspers developed the first design. “At that time, there was a working carbon-fibre prototype with a lot of cables. My challenge was to see how all this technology could be made usable in the operating theatre. What exactly do doctors need? What instruments can be included? What surgery can be done using it?” She also explored the workflow in the operating theatre. “Can it also be quickly adapted to suit the individual surgeon and patient? Time matters a lot: the less time under anaesthetic the better.”

Renée not only received top marks for her modified design, but she also got a job with Lapara Surgical, the company that will be marketing the MIA. “We are currently obtaining funding for further development. This will be followed by a CE Mark process and clinical prototype. We hope to be able to begin sales in 2019.” She remains in contact with TU Delft. “We are working on grant applications for clinical validation and setting up a training curriculum. This involves collaborating with parties including TU Delft. I also still talk to my supervisors as there is a lot of interest in this project.”

She has only positive memories of her time as a student. “I'm so glad that I opted for TU Delft. It's a highly stimulating environment. It's not only your fellow students, but the whole university that offers lots of opportunities to advance and develop: working on committees, foreign internships, etc.,“ explains Renée. “TU Delft is a real community and you can see that at the Open Days. Everyone is truly proud to be part of such a long-standing and highly-regarded institute as TU Delft. I'm proud to be able to say that I studied here. And when you come across other people from Delft, there's an immediate bond.”