GMI Student Perspectives | Erik Wu: Life In The Age Of COVID-19

Reflections from Global Medical Innovation MBE students.

Laparodome being subjected to high temperatures and moisture for an accelerated aging study

In my last blog post I decided to set some “half-year resolutions” in order to give myself some structure and long term vision in what I wanted to achieve. Just to recap, they were:

My half year resolutions:

  1. Mass-producible templates for a lap trainer that can be assembled without tools
  2. Test ultrasound needle guide with surgical residents
  3. Present work at conferences and/or competitions

Sitting in my house amidst an ever growing crisis with Rice University shut down and most if not all social interaction moving to zoom, google hangouts, or insert your other favorite online meeting platform here, I think it is safe to say that I am probably not going to be able to complete what I set out to accomplish. If anything given the circumstances 1/3 isn’t too bad.

However rather than spending this time discussing the crisis (I will leave that to the New York Times), there is still work to be done with only a month left before our last day of virtual class and my first time zooming into my commencement. With Laparodome, our $5 dollar laparoscopic trainer project, we have been able to produce a finalized design and test it in a environmental test chamber (seen above), send it to our partners at UCIMED in San Jose, Costa Rica for feedback, and were even able to present at HGHC before everything shut down. It was illuminating to talk to global health experts especially in the current global climate and see the other work that was being presented. I was especially impressed by a team called PatchVax; it sounds like they were in a very novel and innovative program which I had never heard of. Additionally, I was also able to win a succulent! It’s a pretty big win if you ask me.

For my second project, EVA: an ultrasound access needle guide, I was also able to finalize that design and give it to one of our teammates, Rocky, who also happens to be a vascular surgery resident. In fact Baylor and Rice announced they were shutting their doors the day I was adding the finishing touches to the CAD model, so unfortunately physician feedback will have to wait. Additionally Napier Rice Launch was cancelled and RBPC was postponed so for better or for worse we will have to wait awhile before we can obtain more industry insight in general. Fortunately this device was accepted for the JHU CBID Healthcare design competition (for any prospective students interested in medical innovation or GMI, this is a great program that I encourage you to check out as well) so on 4/19 we will be able to pitch our device to a panel of judges over zoom. With everything else that is happening it is hard to get too excited, but I suppose this is making lemonade out of lemons.

Finally, I should also address something that my colleagues and peers have also talked about in the posts before Coronavirus. I am saddened to say that Sarah, LaShaune, and Dr. Clifton will be leaving the program at the end of this semester due to Rice administrative reasons that I do not necessarily have all the facts about. These three have been the lifeblood of our program, supported us since day one, and have provided the program with innumerable resources in the Houston entrepreneurship ecosystem. As great organizations are made up with great people, I am afraid that without them the program simply won’t be the same without them. I wish the department and the new director the best of luck with the future years, but I was shocked to hear how swift and quickly the decision was made and disheartened at how it was handled. I am curious to see how future years of GMI are like, but it is unfortunate to think that the experiences I have had will not be passed down to the following cohorts after me.

So with that since I now find myself with more free time on my hands during my social distancing, I have finally been able to spend more time trying to both give back to my community and improve my skills in some of my hobbies. Dr. Clifton has been instrumental in organizing a Houston COVID-19 response task force and I have tried to do my part in connecting some of the contacts I have made during my time at Rice to find 3D printing vendors who are able to assist in the effort. Additionally as a senior design TA, I have also shared the group with the underclassmen so while we are all at home we are still able to help out. Additionally I have spent a lot more time cooking before I head home to the Tri-State Area as I have to clear out my fridge somehow. I will definitely say that if there is a silver lining it is that I am finally able to put my cooking abilities to use. Just this past week I have made: Patatas Bravas, Red Braised Pork, MaPo Tofu without chiles, Fried Rice, non-fried Rice, Various roasted vegetables, brownies, gumbo, dry roasted green beans, and will be making some oxtail curry before I leave. If you have made it this far, here is a recipe on how to make the best Red Braised Pork you will ever eat. If you don’t like it, well this is a free recipe in a medical innovation blog post, but this recipe has been tested by others in the program of different backgrounds so I doubt you will dislike it.

Recipe for Red Braised Pork

Serves 4-5 people


(All these ingredients can be found at H-mart or equivalent Asian grocery market)

1 pound Pork Belly, skin on
Bottle of shaoxing cooking wine
Stock (Vegetable, Chicken, or Beef is fine; can also substitute with water)
Regular Soy Sauce (I recommend Pearl River Bridge)
Dark Superior Soy Sauce (optional, more for color)
Rock Candy (Can substitute for sugar)
2 stalks Scallion Ginger root (Can substitute for ginger powder if necessary)
2 star anises
2 pieces of cinnamon stick
2 Bay leaves Black Pepper
Cayenne Pepper (Optional if you like heat)


Find a medium to large stock pot, set aside. Chop the 2 stalks of scallion into 2 inch long segments. Cut off 2 quarter inch thick pieces of ginger, if no ginger present substitute with 2 shakes of ginger powder from the container into the pot. Cut pork belly into 1 inch by 1 inch cubes. Each piece should be a cross section Take all chopped ingredients and place in the pot. Add 2 bay leaves, 2 star anise, 2 cinnamon sticks, and a couple large shakes of both black pepper and cayenne pepper (note, the amount of pepper and cayenne is variable. Chinese cooking is about feel for the most part so but as much or as little as your heart desires. There should be a generous amount of pepper but just don’t dump in the whole container.) Pour cooking wine into the pot until the cooking wine submerges about half of the things in the pot Top off with stock or water until all ingredients are completely submerged. Add about 1/4 cup of regular soy sauce and about 1/4 cup of dark soy sauce. This should be an underestimate with the amount of liquid in the pot already. It is better to air on the safe side as you can always add more later. The actual amount of soy sauce also depends on the brand you are using If no dark soy sauce instead just add 1/2 cup regular soy sauce in total. A good test is the broth should be fragrant and smell balanced (disclaimer: I never measure out ingredients because I am not about washing tons of extra items) Add 2 large pieces of rock candy. If no rock candy add 1/3 cup of white sugar. Bring pot to a boil covered. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for 3-5 hours covered until pork is tender and is able to separate easily with a fork. Skim occasionally if needed. The pork at this point should have a maroon to red color Serve on a bowl of white rice with a side of vegetables or anything else you like. The liquid also serves as a great sauce!

After about 40 minutes to an hour after the initial boil the pork will be fully cooked so this will be a good time to taste the braising sauce and adjust for seasoning. It is best for the sauce to be slightly less salty than more salty as the flavor is more concentrated in the meat.

Erik Wu, 2019-20 Cohort, MBE in Global Medical Innovation