A Bangladeshi team, Bioforge, was announced as one of the winners at this year's prestigious MIT Solve Challenge. The team received Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation award for winning the "Maternal & Newborn Health" challenge, with their pitch for cost-effective and easy-to-assemble neonatal incubators for doctors with limited resources.
Bioforge is among the 35 teams selected from 20 countries. For the class of 2020, a total prize funding of over USD 1 million was announced for winners. Furthermore, the Bangladeshi team also secured the Community Prize.
The team will now have access to resources from MIT and partner organisations Microsoft and General Electric for technical, logistical and financial support. They will also be able to collaborate with other winners for the project and ask for assistance from MIT students and professors.
Led by founders Dr Dewan AFK Choudhury and Ju-un Nahar Choudhury, Bioforge is a biotechnology company offering a low-cost and practical model of neonatal incubator for areas without proper access to healthcare technology.
According to the team, the incubator should be able to provide all the necessary functions of a traditional incubator, without the high price and mobility issues for treatment of premature and low birthweight babies.
The locally designed and manufactured incubators are easy to assemble and do not require highly skilled operators, reducing repair costs. Bioforge's incubator technology, with MIT Solve's network, claims to reduce Bangladesh's neonatal mortality by one-third in the next five years.
"The motivation behind this project comes from my final year as a medical student and my time as an intern, when I had to inform new parents to look for an ICU for their newborns. ICU in hospitals require a high capital to set up, with the incubator itself costing anywhere between Tk 3 and 5 lakh," Dr Choudhury said.
"I realised that making the device more affordable could help relieve parents from much of the cost. We can now deliver incubators with the same basic functionalities at a quarter of the cost of other devices available on the market," he said.
"Our biggest achievement is that we were able to break the barrier and have a Bangladeshi medical device endorsed by an organisation like MIT and supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Previously, we were heavily dependent on developed countries for equipment, and now we can develop our own medical technology," he added.
The project will move into clinical trials next, and if successful, find partners to deliver and deploy the incubators to resource-stricken regions in Bangladesh.
Solve is an initiative of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It aims to find tech-based social entrepreneurs around the world through innovation challenges. The initiative then brings together MIT's innovation ecosystem and members to fund and support these entrepreneurs to create a long-lasting, positive impact on different sectors of the society.