Time for our latest segment of kids these days making us feel like slackers. Although it’s good to know that it’s not always the other way around. The latest case in point is Harry Paul, a high school senior in Long Island, New York, who recently invented a spinal implant to help treat scoliosis, which Paul has endured for his whole life.
Throughout his life, Paul has had over a dozen spinal surgeries, so when he decided to enter the Intel Science and Engineering Fair (the same fair that awarded a a top prize to a new LED charger that may soon revolutionize smartphone batteries), he saw a great opportunity to try and address the shortcomings of current scoliosis treatments so other kids “won’t have to go through the same ordeal that [he] went through.” Paul was born with scoliosis, a lateral curvature in the spine resembling the shape of an “S.” While scoliosis can result from bone, muscle, or nerve-related abnormalities, or from traumatic injuries, most types of scoliosis are idiopathic, having no identifiable cause. That type of scoliosis most often surfaces during adolescence, affecting 2-3% of American teenagers. While braces are often used, especially for less extreme cases, they can only stave off the curvature for so long. Surgery is regarded as the more permanent option, but as Paul can attest, isn’t a one-shot deal.
Paul invented a spinal implant that not only keeps the spine straight, but also expands over time, adjusting to the growing body of a kid. Instead of having surgeries every 3-6 months, as Paul did, the implant would allow patients much more time between surgeries. The invention garnered Paul a coveted spot in the semifinals, as well as a special award prize that includes a $10,000 scholarship from the Office of Naval Research. This is one of many science awards Paul has netted during the course of his young career, totaling over $20,000.
His invention is currently undergoing testing and development by an engineering company that Paul can’t yet name, and the patent is pending. If all goes well, the implant could see use in as few as three years. And Paul’s career is just getting started — he’ll be studying biomedical engineering and public health at Tufts. He articulates his mission in life as being “as happy, healthy and productive as [he] could, and to do something for others whenever possible.” I hope I can be like that when I grow up.