A team of students has won first prize for inventing a low-cost ventilator which they are hoping to introduce in Pakistan.
Their device, the Umbulizer, will cost around $2,000 (Rs280,000) compared to a regular ventilator that usually costs about $15,000 (Rs2 million). These machines, which help people breathe, are so expensive that countries like Pakistan cannot afford them.
The team won $20,000 at the annual MIT Sloan Healthcare Innovations Prize competition, MIT News has reported. The team consists of Boston University graduate Shaheer Piracha and Harvard Medical School student Sanchay Gupta, MIT alumni Moiz Imam ’18 and Abdurrahman Akkas ’18, MIT mechanical engineering student Wasay Anwer, Boston University student Rohan Jadeja, and Farzan Khan, who recently graduated from New York University Abu Dhabi.
“When we spoke to Pakistani doctors and hospital administrators, they expressed a need for a device that is simple to operate, capable of remote monitoring, portable, and built using locally sourced material,” said Piracha at MIT Sloan’s Wong Auditorium on Feb 21. “Our device’s competitive advantage lies in the fact that we’ve balanced the accuracy and consistency of a traditional ventilator with the portability and affordability of an Ambu Bag.”
Ventilators are machines that help people breathe but because they are so expensive there are only about 2,000 in Pakistan. Most hospitals are forced to use the cheaper Ambu Bag. Hospital staff or even a patient’s attendant has to apply constant manual pressure to make it work so oxygen goes to the patient’s lungs.
While speaking about the invention at an event elsewhere, Piracha said he once had to take turns to manually ventilate his friend’s two-year-old child for three days and three nights. The family was asked to do it by hand until the hospital could find a ventilator. This is what inspired Piracha to develop Umbulizer as an inexpensive, portable, electronic ventilator.
The student team says the Umbulizer device can help 90 percent of patients struggling to breathe, at a fraction of the cost of traditional ventilators. Early results from a clinical trial have been promising.
The Umbulizer won out of eight final teams at the competition which is open to entrepreneurial students from colleges and universities in Boston.
The Umbulizer looks like a desktop printer and can run on batteries if it needs to be moved around.
Piracha said they will use the $20,000 in prize money on the current clinical trial. If the company is successful in Pakistan, it hopes to explore markets in countries across South Asia, Africa, and South America.
Intellectual property infringement?
Dr Mujeebur Rahman, who completed his PhD from the California Institute of Technology, has claimed that he had come with the idea of creating such a ventilator after witnessing the dire state of hospitals in Punjab.
In a post, he has accused Piracha of stealing his idea and submitting a plagiarised patent without his consent a day before he submitted it to Pakistan’s intellectual property office. “The best way to protect your work in today’s world is to only share the details with a very small group of people with whom you have built trust over a sufficiently long time,” he writes.
In 2016, Aasim Zafar Khan even wrote an article on Dr Mujeebur Rahman and his work on the low-cost Ambu bag ventilator system.