AN AWARD-WINNING young innovator said the experience of watching his mother on a ventilator in his childhood, as well as the difficulties faced by patients during the Covid-19 pandemic, inspired him to develop his product.
Oxford-based Mihir Sheth, 28, developed RespiTrain, a device that keeps a patient’s muscles working when they are on a ventilator to avoid muscle wastage.
It helps to wean patients off the ventilator quicker and claims to reduce the time spent by patients on the device by 30 per cent. It could potentially save the NHS more than £1 billion annually.
Sheth, who recently won the UK’s Young Innovator award, told Eastern Eye, “My mother spent 40 days on the ventilator; I was 10 at the time. I remember the experience and am aware of the effects of having someone in the ICU for such a long period.
“That was one of the motivations for me to continue working on this product, to ensure that we could reunite patients with their families as soon as possible.”
Sheth, who co-founded Inspiritus Health, said he was inspired when he was part of the Oxford Global Insight Fellowship in 2020. Along with a consultant anaesthetist and a lawyer, he spent a month embedded in hospitals in Senegal and the UK to understand the problems faced in the delivery of healthcare.
“We saw patients in both countries slowly wasting away on the ventilator, and found out that about 40 per cent of the total time on ventilation is spent in weaning – the process of rehabilitating the breathing muscles,” he said.
“During Covid-19, while everyone was looking to get patients on the ventilator, we decided to look at getting patients off the ventilator. We spoke to many clinicians, nurses and physiotherapists to understand ventilation better and started Inspiritus Health to develop a simple, easy-to-use, non-invasive device to improve the strength of breathing muscles of ventilated patients,” Sheth added.
An electrical engineering graduate, Sheth had experience in creating simple-to-use medical devices in Ghana, Kenya, and the UK.
He partnered with Dr Myra Malik to set up the company and is now working with clinicians to collect extra evidence on the product’s effectiveness.
Sheth said, “This innovation is really important for all the stakeholders in healthcare. Reduced time on ventilation means that patients can be discharged quicker and with fewer complications.
“Keeping the breathing muscles healthy also means patients are more likely to be discharged to live a healthy and independent life.
“For the doctors, this means they can potentially prevent respiratory muscle atrophy – one of the reasons for prolonged mechanical ventilation. This also frees up ICU beds, allowing doctors to treat more critically ill patients and save more lives.”
Sheth grew up in Mumbai and finished his masters in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan. Later, he lived and worked in the US and Kenya, before moving to Oxford in the UK in 2020.
He said the next steps were to raise money to develop the prototype further and conduct laboratory, clinical and usability trials with clinicians and patients to get regulatory approval.
This will be carried out alongside partnering with manufacturers, hospitals and distributors to supply chain channels needed to bring the device into the hands of customers quickly, he explained.
Sheth was one among 63 winners of the Young Innovators’ Awards, handed out by Innovate UK. As part of UK Research and Innovation, the organisation aims to facilitate young aspiring entrepreneurs to take their business idea to the next level through its Young Innovators programme and #IdeasMeanBusiness campaign.
It will support young people for 12 months, with individuals benefiting from a £5,000 grant, one-on-one coaching and an allowance to cover living costs.
Sheth said, “It is an incredible honour for me to win the UK’s Young Innovator Award. This award comes at a time when I needed it the most, as I had not been able to make much progress last year after being rejected from a few grants and the isolation from the pandemic.”
He added, “I hope my story inspires other young people not to be scared of trying to solve problems that they see in their daily life, and to know that this can often be a long, hard and lonely journey, but the innovation space is also incredibly kind and willing to help.