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WMU Students Aim to Assist Newborns in Developing Countries

Starting Gate BioMed

Joseph Barnett (pictured at right) and Stephen John both are students attending Western Michigan University (WMU) studying biomedical sciences. What do they have in common? Both intend to become doctors and are colleagues in developing an affordable respiratory device they hope will be used to save lives in developing countries.

Part of the WMU's Starting Gate Investor Day in December, Barnett and John were able to pitch their respiratory device in hopes of changing the lives of many infants.

They went on to explain, "We have taken the initiative to independently research the physiology and mechanics of the problem. We started working under a biomechanics professor and developed our own lab setup to test the device."

John explained that two years ago a friend who is a respiratory therapist working with Respiratory Therapists Without Borders shared the need for an affordable, accessible, trainable respiratory device. Both John and Barnett expressed their empathy for those they saw while traveling over the years with their parents to under developed countries and their desire to make a difference.

They are currently developing a more affordable dual pressure device that differs from CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) in that it delivers an upper and lower pressure to the patient which is believed to reduce the incidence of Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) and lead to better patient outcomes.

Both CPAP and their dual pressure device are medical treatments that deliver positive pressure to the patient to aid in the maintenance of functional lungs. Their dual pressure device will provide positive pressure to neonates that do not have the strength or surfactant to keep their lungs open.

Barnett and John are most interested specifically in premature neonates or neonates with RDS who suffer from poorly developed lungs in developing countries. Barnett shared that the World Health Organization's Global Burden of Disease program lists respiratory problems as one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of 5.

"Currently, we seek to bolster the medical care given in developing countries by addressing an old respiratory problem in a new way, by bringing the less invasive and more affordable dual pressure device and NIPPV (Noninvasive Positive Pressure Ventilation) to areas that currently only deliver CPAP to their patients," Barnett said.

Both Barnett and John are transplants to Kalamazoo. Barnett was a native of Rhode Island who lived in Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Honduras before eventually moving to Michigan during high school. He considers his home to be Kalamazoo. His father is a pastor.

When asked what he enjoys most about living here he said, "My favorite part of Kalamazoo are the friendships and community that I've been able to develop since moving here."

John came to Kalamazoo at the age of 2 and went back and forth to Nepal graduating from Portage Central and the Kalamazoo Math and Science Center. His father is a missionary doctor (pediatrician) and his mother is an engineer in Nepal.

What makes these two young men feel part of Kalamazoo and the community? Both talk about friendships.

John specifically talks about connecting with people at Calvary Bible Church where he attends.

"I volunteer Wednesday nights, play in the orchestra, and attend on Sundays. I also connect with fellow students and professors and through sports, specifically badminton."

Barnett explained his connections to the community revolve around being active.

"In my spare time, my friends and I enjoy backpacking, canoeing, hiking, soccer, racquetball, and traveling to name a few activities."

Interestingly, these young men both have great admiration for the people in Kalamazoo that have taken the time to help them.

When asked about Kalamazoo and what it has to offer, John said, "Kalamazoo has many resources. There are many small start-ups in the Business Technology and Research Park and opportunities for entrepreneurs."

Barnett agreed, "Kalamazoo is growing and with two undergraduate universities, the WMU medical school, and the presence of Pfizer and Stryker, it is a place with many opportunities."

To date the two students have won a competitive grant from Lee Honors College to fund their work and are currently filing a provisional patent.

"We have progressed through WMU's business accelerator and are now forming an LLC to further progress the project," Barnett said proudly.

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