thumbnail text

As at any good medical fair, simply everyone was there. Doctors, dentists, optometrists, chiropractors, clinicians, general practitioners, surgeons, the rescue services and nurses were all on call. Unless you happened to be within hobbling distance of Düsseldorf’s gigantic Messeplatz conference village, the four days of the fair would have been the worst time of the year to break a leg.

For the duration of the fair, some 137,000 medically minded visitors from 100 countries temporarily boost the healthcare capability of Germany’s North Rhine Westfalia region fourfold. Boasting 4,360 exhibitors from 65 nations and occupying 118,500 sq m of exhibition space, Medica is the largest, most prestigious healthcare festival in the world. It’s Woodstock for neurosurgeons: Toshiba Medical Systems are Hendrix; Roche Diagnostics – Santana; Berchtold surgery equipment make a surprisingly mean Sly & The Family Stone.

Now in its 39th year – its 37th at the Messe – Medica has never been merely a showroom for the coolest CAT scanner or the sexiest orthopaedic shoe. Its aim has also been to showcase services, supplies, product launches and slightly shaky-looking inventions from small businesses without the pan-global distribution networks of the giants.

In addition, Medica sells expertise. Dr Stefan Lührs is the stern emergency doctor who presides over the most butch stand at the fair, promoting the heroism of the German emergency services and the rugged hardware with which they get the job done. “Ready for action,” says his brochure, promising that its “17 partners provide one intelligent solution.” Jeep (“Das Original”) provides the off-road capability while Kawasaki (“Let the good times roll”) makes the rugged customised quad bike towing the Böckmann trailer, complete with a stretcher, clinical systems from GE Healthcare and a blanketed dummy with a horribly realistic mangled foot.

“We’ve just taken three orders for these quad bikes from a force in downtown Hamburg,” says Lührs. “In town or on the highway, where the traffic is bumper to bumper, driving this thing is no problem.” Is it as fun as it looks? Lührs allows himself a smile, “Oh yes – voom! Straight to work!”

His company, Lührs Rescue, offers a range of products from first-aid kits to hard hats while also providing a consultancy on the right kit with which to equip rescue vehicles. The pièce de résistance is the modified Chrysler Crossfire Roadster used as the official Formula One medics’ car. This streamlined number has been souped-up under the bonnet and stripped-out inside to accommodate rescue backpacks, oxygen tanks and a defibrillator to provide first response in the event of a high-speed smash.

“When there’s racing, it’s no good having a big, slow ambulance – this is the fastest way to the accident,” he nods, tapping the tailgate. Unsurprisingly, Lührs is a busy man, “I work 15 hours a day for my department and I’m on call seven days a week,” he confirms, handing me the card with his company’s motto: “Life is simple. Eat. Sleep. Save Lives.”

Next door, Binz is showing off some equally impressive equipment. The sort of vehicle too slow for a racetrack is something of a speciality for this German coachbuilder, which has been customising the designs of others since 1936. At Medica, Binz is all about ambulances: a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has been decked out with stretchers, respirators, infusion pumps and a specially designed stretcher-cum-incubator. The standard van-to-ambulance job costs €70,000; €150,000 with all the trimmings. “You’re looking at the deluxe version,” confirms José Cuesta, Binz’s international sales manager, as we peer into a wagon full of state-of-art emergency equipment. (The chassis are usually Benz or Volkswagen, while the medical equipment is often from Brazil and Spain.)

“We supply you from the cradle to the grave – the full service!” laughs Cuesta. “We sell 600 ambulances a year all over the world, but our hearses sell out in the UK; we sell 80 a year there alone.”

Binz’s most unusual recent commission was a fully operational mobile clinic complete with operating theatre built on a Mercedes-Benz lorry chassis for Colonel Gaddafi, that also had a military paint job. “This was a special vehicle, made for one person,” Cuesta says, “but we have built something similar for the German army.” In the catalogue, the picture of the Libyan leader’s safe haven is supported by copy that pulls no punches. “Because disaster knows no limitations,” it broods. Danger knows few price limits, either: the Gaddafi-standard mobile hospital comes in at a cool €2m.

Fetish parties aside, medical garments have never been à la mode, but every medical professional needs a clean, simple, anti-bacterial get-up in which to go about their business – this is why Toray is the largest textile-manufacturing multinational in the world. With an annual turnover of some €101bn, the Japanese-founded developer and manufacturer is a Glaxo-sized concern.

The buzz on the Toray stand is for “See it Safe”, a new textile developed in the US that weaves silver thread into regular fabric to provide an antibacterial screen against infection that’s been tried and tested on the battlefield. “If a soldier gets injured, if there’s blood, the silver kills the bacteria,” explains Manuel Bolano, the marketing manager for the brand. “It’s useful in many ways – it can stop a soldier’s boots from smelling by killing the fungi, too,” continues Bolano with a smirk.

This year “See it Safe” will be incorporated into nurse’s uniforms, surgeons gowns and, in the UK – where around 800 people die yearly from hospital-borne infections – Sleepsafe, a range of Marks & Spencer pyjamas that will go some way to assuaging the fear of catching MRSA. In fact, the literature promises that See It Safe kills 99.9 per cent of bacteria within an hour.

It’s impressive, but don’t surgeons ever hanker after more stylish smocks? “Medical professionals and garment manufacturers have tried to embrace a bit more of an elegant shape,” says Bolano: “The garment manufacturers might try a different shade of blue or add a collar, but it’s all about movement, not fashion!”

Before Damien Hirst’s “Hymn” (the 6m-tall sculpture that looked uncannily like a monster-sized anatomy model) came Pablo Garcia Cuesta. His Simuplast factory in Madrid turns out iconic anatomical models for schools, hospitals and research facilities. While Simuplast reproduces everything from horses to frogs to plants and geographical features its good name is built on human simulators – 500 different models comprise skeletons, body parts and gory details (the mangled foot in Lührs’ quad trailer is a Simuplast production). “Perhaps the models are tougher than real people,” laughs Garcia Cuesta. “They’re non-toxic, entirely washable and throw them to the floor and they won’t smash.”

Garcia Cuesta’s bestseller is a standard 2:1 scale human torso that can be taken apart in 23 pieces and costs €200. Simuplast produces 16,000 models a year. Medica 2007 has been good to the Spaniard, who has just taken an unprecedented order, aided by cash from the World Bank, of 8,000 models from Peru. “It’s a wonderful order,” he nods, “it’ll keep the Chinese and Indian factories from my heels a while longer.”

In the 15th hall, I find the obligatory nutty professor. Dr Rudolf Weyergans is a German scientist and the brains, business sense and bushy moustache behind Weyergans’s VacuMed and VacuSport. These two metal capsules of apparently unparalleled regenerative powers that look like a cross between a bobsleigh and an iron lung and “act like a second external heart, a giant pump that sucks the fresh blood into the lower limbs and squeezes the old blood out – fresh in, old out!” says their inventor.

Weyergans’ enthusiasm for his project is infectious. “It’s perfect for regenerating muscles – with this you can avoid gangrene, heart attack and stroke!” There is a queue of willing victims tapping the machines impatiently as Vacu-ees lie inside enjoying the restorative effects of Weyergans vein-saving time-machine. “I’m happy to be the man standing beside it, ha!” he quips over the hubbub of the fair and leaves Monocle with a poignant Medica mantra ringing in our ears: “Remember: fresh in, old out!”

Your medical history: where three brands began

Founded by Theodor Berchtold in Germany in 1922 as a manufacturer of surgical instruments, the firm has become a world-leader with manufacturing in Germany, Switzerland and the US. At Medica 07 Berchtold was showing off its Supersuite, a state-of-the-art operating theatre with a camera system that enables a surgeon to get a second opinion from a distance.

Toshiba Medical Systems
Toshiba was founded in 1875 by Hisashige Tanaka in Japan. Toshiba developed its first X-Ray tube in 1915 and focused on medical imaging only: CT and MRI scanners, X-Ray and Ultrasound. The vast majority of Toshiba’s medical hardware is made in Japan. Toshiba’s flagship product at Medica 07 was the Aquilion One, a CT scanner capable of imaging the heart in one beat.

Toray was founded in 1926 as the Toyo Rayon Co, Japan and changed its name to Toray in 1970. Toray’s fibres, textiles and plastics have been augmented by telecoms and pharmaceuticals. Bestsellers at Medica 07 were Carbon Fibre textiles and its See it Safe silver yarn.







  • The Big Interview