Safe monitoring: Dr. Carmit Levy, director of Pneumedicare, holds up the sensor that promises to detect respiratory problems at an early stage.An award-winning final undergraduate project by students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has now been developed into a new respiration-monitoring device that is suitable for premature babies.
Pneumedicare, the startup founded to bring the device to market, was set up in August last year at the Yozmat Haemek Technological Incubator in Migdal Haemek. In December the company began clinical trials of the new device at the Carmel Medical Center in Haifa.
In the US alone, more than 240,000 babies are put on respirators annually. The cost of ICU care for premature babies is estimated at more than $15 billion a year. Together with care for children and adults, this figure rises to more than $35 billion a year.
Despite this clear need, respiratory monitoring of infants in intensive care units is problematic. Existing equipment does not monitor respiratory problems or chest cavity mechanics and it also does not immediately report on problems. Up to six hours can elapse from the moment a problem occurs in lung ventilation, to the moment medical personnel detect it. This is often too late. The baby is already exhibiting signs of distress and there’s a danger of irreversible damage to the baby’s vital body organs.
The Pneumedicare device, which was developed at the Technion’s Faculty of Biomedical Engineering, can detect respiratory irregularities in newborn babies at an early stage, including problems such as accumulation of air between the lungs and chest cavity walls, partial blockage of the air passages, or breathing from only one lung. By detecting these problems early, the device reduces the risk of complications, long-term damage to vital organs, and irreversible brain damage.
“We directly monitor the mechanics of respiration,” says Pneumedicare’s director, Dr. Carmit Levy, who finished her doctorate in biomedicine at the Technion. “We put sensors on two sides of the chest and the upper part of the stomach of a premature baby on a respirator. Thus, we can monitor lack of symmetry between the two lungs and the development of mechanical disturbances in lung ventilation. The sensors are attached to the body externally, without invasive intervention.”
The device, which is also good for children and adults, has long-range financial implications. Early detection of respiratory problems can save numerous days of hospitalization (estimated at $2,000 per person per day), as well as the long-term cost of treating premature babies disabled as a result of respiratory failures.
Pneumedicare, which has received additional funding from angel investors, was founded by the Technion’s Prof. Amir Landesberg and Dr. Dan Waisman of the Carmel Medical Center and the Technion’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine.
The final project, which won first place in a faculty competition, was carried out by students Hagay Weisbrod and Nitai Hanani, and engineer Anna Feingersh, a faculty alumna employed by the company to carry out and analyze clinical trials.
The company expects the first Pneumedicare device to be on the market in about one year.