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The Neovent enables health care workers around the world deliver safe, low cost, low energy and easy to use Noninvasive Positive Pressure Ventilation to treat premature infants in respiratory distress.

What it does

The Neovent enables health care workers around the world deliver safe, low cost, low energy and easy to use Noninvasive Positive Pressure Ventilation to treat premature infants in respiratory distress.

Your inspiration

The World Health Organization lists respiratory problems as one of the leading causes of death among children under the age of five. Premature infants with respiratory distress struggle to breathe and require positive pressure therapy to recruit and stabilize their alveoli. For moderate respiratory distress, a low cost bubble Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) setup is utilized. Sicker babies require a dual pressure treatment, such as Nasal Intermittent Positive Pressure Ventilation. While this can be delivered with expensive ventilators, in low resource settings there is currently no affordable alternative. This disparity is evidenced by the neonatal mortality rate in Nepal of 32 in 1000 live births compared to that of the U.S. of 4 in 1000 live births (WHO, 2009). Medical centers in developing countries have both the large patient population and the limited resources to benefit. We learned of this problem from Eric Cheng, co-founder of Respiratory Therapists Without Borders, who asked whether a simple mechanism for delivering dual pressure treatment utilizing the bubble CPAP circuit could be developed. At that time, babies were dying during the long bus rides to larger hospitals capable of providing this treatment. Globally, an estimated 1 million neonates die each year due to prematurity and respiratory problems. We seek to address this need in global health.

How it works

The mechanics and operation of the device were designed for simplicity, as the prime users will be busy nurses without the discipline-specific training of a Respiratory Therapist. The device is reliable and has only one moving part. Retaining a basic feature of bubble CPAP, the pressure levels can be adjusted by changing the water level. Instead of a digital display, the presence of bubbles and the movement of the device confirm that the baby is receiving the correct pressures. Our device harnesses the waste energy of bubble CPAP to deliver a dual pressure treatment; therefore additional power supplies and batteries are not needed. Thus, any medical facility currently offering the widely used bubble CPAP is a prime candidate for our device. Our low cost ensures that rural medical centers can purchase the device, while the simplicity of design ensures that these centers can operate it. The NeoVent utilizes a novel oscillatory relief valve; air is collected in an inverted basket until the upward buoyant force overcomes the downward gravitational force. At that point, the basket rises, moving a sleeve, which seals off the bubbling holes, raising the pressure in the circuit. After rising a specified distance, the basket vents the air and sinks, moving the sleeve down and reopening the holes on the central shaft, lowering the pressure. This process cyclically repeats, affecting a dual level pressure waveform in the circuit.

Design process

The medical constraints of developing countries comprised our design challenge. Current solutions to the respiratory problem function well but have failed to reach many hospitals in the developing world. Our intent was to build a device capable of functioning with existing bubble CPAP setups; by simply replacing the exhaust pipe with our mechanism, we would enable centers currently equipped for CPAP to also deliver biphasic or NIPPV. We started from scratch and came up with several ideas. We then constructed over 30 prototypes of three designs that showed promise: a turbine mechanism, a flap mechanism and an inverted bowl mechanism. We down selected to the most superior design, the inverted bowl mechanism, as only this mechanism produced an oscillation within the desired range of frequencies without excessive frictional losses. We have conducted extensive testing to fine-tune the design and verify the safe delivery of the treatment in conditions similar to hospital usage. We are now seeking to incorporate design for manufacturing principles into our design. We graduated from WMU’s business accelerator, the Starting Gate, and have launched our startup company. We are planning clinical trials in Nepal, Kenya, and Uganda, after which we seek to begin equipping medical centers in developing countries to deliver more comprehensive care for neonates with respiratory distress.

How it is different

Future plans


We have won the Lemelson-MIT undergraduate “Cure It” competition, a VentureWell E-teams grant, the Brian Thomas Entrepreneurial competition at WMU, and a research grant from our university's honors college.

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