CSU Engineering Students File Patent on Low Cost Infant Transport Incubator for Use in U.S., Newly Industrialized Nations

Note to Reporters: Video of the students and the baby incubator emergency transport backpack is available at http://www.today.colostate.edu/story.aspx?id=3825. Downloadable photos are available with the news release at http://www.news.colostate.edu/ or www.flickr.com/coloradostateuniversity.

Four graduating Colorado State University seniors have filed for a patent on a medically equipped incubator backpack unit they hope will reduce deaths of babies in medical emergencies in the United States and newly industrialized nations.

The mechanical engineering students built the device, called a neonatal transport incubator, to help first responders and medical personnel more safely move babies from their homes and/or other sites to medical facilities, whether in the United States or in countries with rough terrain or inadequate road systems. While there are other neonatal transport devices on the market, this unique backpack design is less expensive and more portable, and incorporates a suspension system that absorbs shock and protects the baby during travel.

“The backpack also can be strapped to a base that fits on a gurney, in an ambulance or Flight-for-Life aircraft,” said Sue James, CSU mechanical engineering professor who served as faculty advisor for the students.

“In Third World countries, a lot of births happen at home,” said Phil Brox, a senior mechanical engineering student. “In some countries, if they have to save a life, they hike in and carry the baby in their hands or use a sling approach. The sad reality is that often the baby dies.”

In one six-month period in 2006 in Brazil, for example, medical workers were called to the State of Rio de Janeiro 96 times to help babies and, before they could get help, all 96 children died, Brox said.

“We want the device to be portable but include all the current standards for newborn transportation systems – an electric heating system, air circulation, an air controller, various alarms that monitor the baby’s temperature, etc.,” said Jeff Belval, also a senior. “Those are features currently included in other products on the market.”

Listed on the patent application with Brox and Belval are Brett Raver and Casey Dean. The four have spent the last year working on the project with James. The effort started out as a senior design or capstone project that students need to graduate. Brox and Dean also completed the Interdisciplinary Studies Program in biomedical engineering as undergraduates.

James urged the students to focus on countries with poor urban infrastructure but that still have modern medical facilities. She’s also coaching them to determine whether they’re going to form their own start-up company or license the technology through the Colorado State University Research Foundation (CSURF), a private, non-profit Colorado corporation that owns and manages CSU-developed intellectual property.

James has experience with commercializing technological innovations: She has spent much of the last decade developing a biologically enhanced, self-lubricating bearing material that allows human joints to survive much longer than current technology allows. Through CSURF, this technology has been licensed to BioPoly LLC, an Indiana-based orthopedic company.

Her students have filed a provisional patent for the neonatal transport incubator through CSURF. A provisional patent is a first step in the patent application process and allows the students to publically disclose and discuss the technology with outside investors, companies and other interested parties while maintaining the right to complete the full patent application.

Brox added that the students have also met with representatives of the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise program in the university’s College of Business to understand more about how to create a company.

“It has been a good learning experience,” Brox said.