December 09, 2016

Invent-ilator: Medical student’s device promises to save lives abroad

Stephen John’s infant respirator invention soon could help premature newborns breathe easier across the developing world

Stephen John

Second-year med student Stephen John is the inventor of the NeoVent, an affordable way to provide live-saving dual-pressure ventilation to newborns with respiratory issues.

A $10 problem doesn’t need a $1,000 solution.

Take it from Stephen John, a UMMS student whose infant respirator invention has already garnered recognition and some funding, and could soon be helping premature newborns breathe easier across the developing world.

John was an undergraduate engineering student on the hunt for a senior project when his pediatrician father posed a problem: the small hospital where he worked in Nepal couldn’t afford the type of dual-pressure ventilators often required to help very young babies breathe on their own. Common in western hospitals, traditional ventilators come with a high price tag that is often a barrier in developing countries, where the vast majority of neonatal deaths (in the first four weeks of life) occur.

“Respiratory issues are a leading cause of deaths in premature infants, and the ventilators are expensive,” said John. “But when you strip away all of the electronics — the bells and whistles — you’ve actually got a relatively simple mechanical engineering problem.”

He imagined an attachment that could transform a bubble CPAP machine, which delivers constant, single-pressure ventilation, into a dual-pressure ventilator.

To read more about John’s invention.