Frustrated by the lack of co-operation from manufacturers, some academics now want to reinvent the medical-device industry from the ground up, using open-source techniques. In open-source systems, the source code is freely shared and can be viewed and modified by anyone who wants to see how it works or build an improved version of it. Exposing a design to many hands and eyes, the theory goes, results in safer products. This seems to be the case for desktop software, where bugs and security flaws in open-source applications are typically fixed much more quickly than those in commercial programs.
The Generic Infusion Pump project, a joint effort between the University of Pennsylvania and the FDA, is taking these troublesome devices back to basics. The researchers began not by building a device or writing code but by imagining everything that could possibly go wrong with a drug-infusion pump. Manufacturers were asked to help, and several did so, including vTitan, a start-up based in America and India. “For a new manufacturer, it’s a great head start,” says Peri Kasthuri, vTitan’s co-founder. By working together on an open-source platform, manufacturers can build safer products for everyone, while still retaining the ability to add extra features to differentiate themselves from their rivals.