By Sola Ogundipe
IN 2012, as a young medical doctor, Dr. Dayo Olakulehin had a brainwave. His moment of ingenuity came during his housemanship while he was on duty one night at the Olikoye Ransome Kuti Children emergency ward, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Idi Araba, Lagos. Olakulehin’s idea was to design and build a portable, battery-powered ventilator specifically to assist unconscious patients breathe.
His belief that such a medical device that could potentially save millions of lives of patients worldwide was based on the personal experience he had. As a medic, he noticed that many patients in respiratory failure requiring ventilator support are unable to access it for reasons of cost and availability. The current alternative is for health workers to indefinitely ventilate these patients using a CPR bag and there are instances in which patients are ventilated for days, with health workers taking turns to keep those patients alive by manually compressing the CPR bag.
Olakulehin, who told Good Health Weekly, that he had conviction that a portable, battery operated device that automates the process of providing ventilator support for respiratory failure patients anywhere and not just in the Intensive Care Unit, ICU would be a life saver. I had manually ventilated a 5-year-old boy for four hours and at about 2am, I fell asleep, only to be awakened by the boy’s father.
“If the child had continued without ventilation for longer than four minutes, it could have resulted in irreversible brain damage. “This experience was common among hospital staff at LUTH and other medical facilities. It was after one of such incidents the idea for an alternative ventilation method came to my mind. And the D-Box was born.”
But at that point, Olakulehin, who obtained his medical degree from the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, was handicapped. Although he had come up with such marvellous idea, being a general practice physician, he had no training in biomedical engineering and needed to raise funds to execute the capital intensive venture. “I knew having the idea was not sufficient, I needed to find a way to make it a reality. I knew nothing about business, patenting or developing innovations.
“I went online looking for help, and I found a course on Healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship. This course taught me how to develop a patent. I approached a number of medical device companies and found out it was a lot easier to sell a product than to sell an idea. Nevertheless, the young doctor knew did not relent.
Speaking in Lagos last week during the public presentation of the prototype of the D-Box, he said: “I literally sat on the idea for three years trying to take the next vital step until I met Mr. Kunle Soriyan and Thelma Ekiyor of Afrigrants. “This led to the founding of LigandCorp and shifted my paradigm from focusing on one product to creating a company that drives medical innovation, particularly among young Nigerians.
As the CEO of LigandCorp, the search for a prototype developer began and while in Canada, a collaboration was formed with Inertia, an engineering and design company. that committed to partnering with LigandCorp and worked hard to get the prototype ready.“ Introducing the D-Box, Olakulehin described it as an innovative affordable battery operated ventilator designed to automate CPR bags and deliver controlled breaths to patients with respiratory problems.
While conventional ventilators averagely cost $30,000 and low-cost alternatives (still in development) are to be sold for $3,000, the D-Box comes at an introductory price of $300.
Requires no expertise
“It requires little or no expertise to use and is powered by a rechargeable battery that facilitates usage in remote rural communities and urban centers with limited facilities. “When you encounter an unconscious patient, this happens to be the common pathway for many illnesses. Irrespective of what has caused the patient’s illness, the major common pathway is cardiac arrest. We also have common trauma cases in and out of the emergency room where people are unconscious and need to be resuscitated.
“Circulation and ventilation are keys to life, and that is what we are addressing with the D-box. It is the ubiquitous device. We are raising the standard. What we used to have is that a doctor manually compressed the CPR bag. What we have done is to move that job to the D-box. It will allow our trained doctors to pay attention to other critical needs of the patients.
Stating that the device has been patented, he said a patent was obtained at inception. “When I did the product development, I got another patent. When we made the prototype, we aso had to file another patent. We have the best of intellectual property lawyers and we realise that intellectual property theft is a major issue, especially for a product that has tendency to go global. We are taking the product proactively and taking it into the global market.
Essentially, the D-Box is different because it is less sophisticated and less complex than existing ventilators. Olakunlehin said it is portable, cheaper and easier to handle. “While the big teaching hospitals have 5-6 units of ventilators that are electricity dependent and sensitive, the D-box can work on battery power for 8-12 hours. It’s an amazing breakthrough.
“However it does not replace existing ventilators which exist for critical intensive care, it is being introduced to improve the quality of care that is available for the patient. “It is limited currently because it cannot be used for a child, unlike existing ventilators that have different modes, this is only Intermitent Positive Pressure Ventilation, IPPV, but we hope to improve it in the future.”