Students Travel to Ghana with New Medical Device

Story by John Gagnon, promotional writer

Four students embarked to Ghana Thursday to test and demonstrate an infant heartbeat detector they developed which could reduce newborn infant deaths in developing countries.

The team will visit Kumasi, Kranka and Synyani in the west African country to show their device to physicians and midwives to determine its usefulness and get their feedback on how it could be improved.

The mechanism quickly recognizes if a newborn’s heart is beating. Without this kind of technology, sometimes midwives set aside depressed and nonresponsive babies, thinking they are stillborn.

The Tech students have been working on the project for two years. Brooke Smith, who graduated in spring in biomedical engineering, says the device had to be portable, durable, inexpensive and simple enough for an untrained person to use.

“I’m so excited,” she said this week. “We’ve come so far. Now we take it to a developing country, work with them and hopefully make their lives better.”

Besides testing the detector, the students will interview people about other medical devices they might need.

Smith is joined by biomedical engineering majors Samantha Stewart and Elizabeth Moore and Nana Manteau, who is majoring in psychology.

The four students, who will be in Africa for two weeks, belong to the International Business Ventures Enterprise. Robert Warrington, director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies; Anne Warrington, senior lecturer in the SBE; and Michael Neuman, chair of biomedical engineering, are their advisors.

More


Update Story

Story by John Gagnon, promotional writer

Four students who traveled to Ghana have returned to campus with an affirmation of their work and some good ideas about how to refine it.

Medical personnel in the West African nation welcomed the students. “They were really interested in what we had to offer,” says Brooke Smith, one of the four. “It was definitely a worthwhile trip.”

She has been part of the International Business Ventures Enterprise and a team of students who have developed a device that detects the heartbeat of a newborn.

“They were really excited about the monitor and that it would be very good to use there,” Smith says.”

The device quickly recognizes if a newborn’s heart is beating. Without the technology, sometimes midwives set aside depressed and nonresponsive babies, thinking they are stillborn, so the device could help to reduce newborn infant deaths in Ghana and other developing countries.

The student team visited physicians, nurses and midwives in Kumasi, Sunyani and Kranka to show their device, determine its usefulness, and get feedback on how it could be improved.

The heartbeat detector is about the size of a luggage tag and is placed on the chest of a newborn. It has a speaker and a light—what Smith says is a “beep and blink” technology—that facilitates counting the heart beat.

Four suggestions for improvement resulted from the trip:

  • Make it flexible. Smith says some of the babies are smaller than they expected, their chests have more curvature, and a flexible device would better conform it to the baby’s chest.
  • Expand its use by making it possible to continually monitor the heart rate, which would be displayed digitally.
  • Make its battery rechargeable, like a cell phone, for repetitive use.
  • Ensure the battery is optimally functional. In Ghana, she notes, power outages occur daily.

Basically, Smith says, the health practitioners that the team met “were excited about anything that we could bring them that would make their life easier.”

In the city of Kumasi, population 1.5 million, facilities are advanced, and procedures and protocols used after a birth are the same as in the US. On the other hand, in the small village of Kranka, population 1,000, there is only rudimentary medical equipment and little of it.

Smith says that the clinic in Kranka could use the detector, with the bugs worked out, as is. So, too, with the hospital in Kumasi—especially if the device were to have a digital display. “But they really want us to be certain that the batteries would meet their needs.” Currently the device is powered by two three-volt coin batteries.

One wrinkle that emerged: the staff in hospitals in Kumasi and Sunyani often are unable to repair faulty medical equipment. Therefore, the Tech students will need to develop technical documentation and give proper training for personnel should a unit break.

Smith was joined by biomedical engineering majors Samantha Jang-Stewart and Elizabeth Moore and Nana Manteau, a native of Ghana, who is majoring in psychology.

Robert Warrington, director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies; Anne Warrington, senior lecturer in the SBE; and Michael Neuman, chair of biomedical engineering, are the advisors.

Smith, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, ends two years of work with the heart rate detector. She’s headed to Cornell University to work on a PhD in the same field.

She believes she is well-prepared. Tech, she says, has given her a solid background in biomechanics, biomaterials and bioinstrumentation—and an experience she’ll never forget.

“I never expected I’d be going to Africa and become an ambassador of Michigan Tech and the US. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

The four students belong to the International Business Ventures Enterprise. Robert Warrington, director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies; Anne Warrington, senior lecturer in the SBE; and Michael Neuman, chair of biomedical engineering, are their advisors.

More