Sisu Global Health's Work Featured in Forbes Article
Monday, January 12, 2015
An Alternative to Blood Transfusions for Resource-Strapped Developing Countries
By Anne Field
About 80% of medical devices on the market today target 10% of the world. That’s because many developing nations lack the money or resources to buy the equipment or run it safely.
Take something as seemingly commonplace as a blood transfusion for a patient who is hemorrhaging. In places like Sub-Saharan Africa, where there aren’t facilities for safe storage or testing of donated blood, medical professionals often salvage the patient’s own blood with a kitchen soup ladle and filter it with gauze. The result: many unnecessary deaths.
This is the heart-breaking problem startup Sisu Global Health is addressing. Launched early last year by three women in their early 20′s, the Grand Rapids, Mich., social enterprise designs and manufactures medical technology for hospitals and clinics in developing countries. (That statistic in the first sentence is from Chief Marketing Officer Katie Kirsch).
The company’s first product is the Hemafuse, a manual, mechanical blood transfusion device. It retransfuses a patient’s own blood during an internal hemorrhage, specifically as a result of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy or traffic accident. Instead of using a soup ladle, the Hemafuse acts much like a super-size syringe which can suction blood through a filter, then allows the user to transfer the blood into a bag and reuse it. The result is a process that’s much safer, quicker and requires many fewer personnel. The company’s co-founders are working with hospitals in Ghana to introduce the device there.
Sisu Global recently received a $250,000 grant from Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development for product development targeting Ghana and has a few more days to go on an Indiegogo campaign to raise $45,000. That’s to perform protocols to prepare for clinical trials in Zimbabwe.
There’s also another patent-pending device called the (r)Evolve that’s a centrifuge with which you can quickly test blood for diagnostic purposes with or without electricity.
How did all this happen? First, a little information about the company’s co-founders. They include CEO Carolyn Yarina, a 2013 chemical engineering graduate of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. While still a student, she developed the prototype for (r)Evolve, spending summers in India to refine the concept, and taking entrepreneurship classes. When she graduated, she ran a nonprofit to refine the device.
In the meantime, Gillian Henker, a fellow Michigan student and now Sisu’s Chief Technology Officer, did field research for her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering in Ghana. There, she learned about the urgent need for a host of medical devices appropriate to resource-strapped developing countries, including a replacement for the soup ladle system. When she returned state-side, she got to work on developing a viable solution. Then she co-founded a startup to commercialize clinical technologies. She and Yarina met while working at an entrepreneurial center at Michigan and decided to join forces.
As for Kirsch, she spent much of her undergraduate years at Albion College working overseas in Rwanda, Suriname and other places, eventually getting a job at Yarina’s nonprofit before co-founding Sisu.
The grant is aimed at product design and manufacturing; the company is using a manufacturer in Michigan that specializes in small-batch medical device production.
None of the co-founders has a medical background. But they’ve worked extensively with partners in Ghana. And they have an advisory board which includes Dr. Nichodemus Gebe, head of the Biomedical Unit in the Ghanaian Ministry of Health; Sajju Jain, a serial social entrepreneur; Dr. Jonathan Waters, an expert on blood transfusion at the University of Pittsburgh; and Jim Reilly, head of Global Divisions for the American Association of Blood Banks.
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