Growing up in the streets of Rabat, Youssef El Azouzi never expected that he would one day be named the Best Arab Inventor.
“Never let the fear of poverty stop you from following your dreams. Always have humility when approaching a potentially novel idea. Never stop asking questions, because the first step to knowledge is the good question. Ideas don’t fall from the sky, they come from the passion to investigate and search for the truth.”
These inspirational words come from Youssef El Azouzi, a Moroccan doctor who defied all obstacles to become the best inventor in the Arab world, with a groundbreaking invention to help patients suffering from cardiac diseases.
On Friday, November 8, Doctor El Azouzi won the Grand Final of Arab Stars of Science Season 11, a television show dedicated to Arab youth who feel they can develop technology that will improve the lives of their communities.
A couple of weeks after his feat, Dr El Azouzi opened up to Morocco World News sharing his story, plans, and ambitions.
A curious child
The 27-year-old doctor was born in Rabat to a Moroccan father and an American mother. Growing up in a mixed household gave El Azouzi a unique perspective on social issues and interactions. Throughout his childhood in the Moroccan capital, El Azouzi developed a faculty for observing details and for questioning his surroundings even at the most basic level.
“I was fascinated by maps and was obsessed with networks of transportation, be it roads, rails or sea routes. In fact, I had a world map right next to where I would lie on my bed and I would contemplate and study the map for an extended period of time. To put it simply, I was always interested in mobility from point A to point B,” he says.
Despite being a curious and smart child, El Azouzi’s interests did not earn him outstanding grades at school. The scientist explained that this was due to the incompatibility of the Moroccan education system with creativity and innovation.
“I was almost always an average student in terms of grades and did not fit into the stereotype most people would have regarding the best Arab inventor,” El Azouzi begins.
“The reason why I never felt comfortable with the schooling system during my adolescence was because of the box I was being forced to fit into from an intellectual perspective. When I would learn about a certain subject I was interested in, I wouldn’t want to move on to the next subject as is done at school. I wanted to delve more into the abyss of whatever I was learning with one question leading me to another. This is what gave me a sense of pleasure and that’s all that mattered to me,” he explains.
“I like helping others”
At 18 years old, El Azouzi decided to become a doctor. His father, who is also a doctor, encouraged him after a discussion on the positive impact doctors can have on the society. Being a good listener and a person who enjoys helping others also played a role in his decision to enter the world of medicine.
When he started his medical career, his childhood curiosity and interest in mobility sparked even brighter. The young doctor wanted to solve mobility problems within the human body, specifically issues related to moving blood from one area to another.
The numerous questions that haunted El Azouzi’s mind led him to start conceptualizing his dream of helping people into inventions. The invention that earned El Azouzi the title of Best Arab Inventor was a flow modulation stent. In simpler words, it is a tiny tube that redirects blood flow that normally goes to the legs and diverts it towards the kidneys. El Azouzi’s invention will help patients suffering from heart failure by redistributing blood supply in the whole body.
“Unlike current solutions to advanced-stage heart failure, our stent doesn’t require open and invasive surgery, doesn’t require the maintenance of a battery, and is expected to be less than one fourth the cost of an artificial heart pump implantation procedure,” said El Azouzi about what makes his invention unique.
The Stars of Science Journey
After creating a prototype of his invention, El Azouzi travelled to Silicon Valley, California, to find investors to fund his project. After more than 50 days of seeking funds, and almost losing hope, the Moroccan doctor found out about the Stars of Science show from someone he had met accidentally.
“I had no idea about [the show], but when I went back home and saw the contestants of Season 9 and what support the program provides in terms of funds and technical help, I applied to the program within less than a week,” El Azouzi tells MWN.
”It’s interesting how my trip to the US, which lasted for about 50 days, was saved by a suggestion that lasted for a mere five minutes,” narrates the doctor.
El Azouzi was confident enough that his project would qualify for the 11th season of Stars of Science. However, the young Moroccan had doubts about how far he would go “given the sheer number of contestants who were, not only specialists in their fields, but also published many papers in prestigious journals.”
During the competition, the contestant had to go through four different phases: the proof of concept phase, the engineering phase, the design phase, and the testing phase.
First, El Azouzi and the other competitors had to demonstrate their concepts using basic tools to convince the jury. Then, in the engineering phase, participants had to prove the efficacy and functionality of their concepts in more concrete terms and with more details.
After that, the contestants demonstrated how their products would satisfy the customer or patient in the design phase. Finally, in the testing phase, El Azouzi and other finalists had to put their inventions to the test in real-life situations.
The more El Azouzi advanced in the competition, the more confidence he gained, until he was named winner of the competition. One person that helped boost the young doctor’s self-confidence was his wife.
“I had an early feeling that if I did reach the finals, I would likely take second or third place. However, my wife always had an instinctive feeling that I would come first and that’s exactly what ended up happening,” said El Azouzi recalling his achievement.
So.. What next?
The next phase in El Azouzi’s project is testing prototypes of his invention on animals, and then, ultimately, making the first trial on a human.
“This is our ultimate aim – to clinically validate our hypothesis in a human model in order to demonstrate to the scientific community around the world that this device can make a difference in people’s lives,” explains the doctor.
The inventor expects this testing phase to be completed in 12 to 18 months, with a total investment of up to one million dollars.
As for his personal plans, the doctor wants to live in Morocco, at least until the testing phase is over.
“I would like to avoid moving my family to another country on a permanent basis because there is still significant risk regarding the success of my project. This is why I have made the decision to live in Morocco on a permanent basis during the proof of concept phase of my project,” he explains.
However, El Azouzi doesn’t reject the possibility of living abroad in the future.
“In the future, once the prospects of my project appear more secure, I may move my family to where I deem is compatible for the growth and success of this project as well as my family’s well being.”