MI Startup Wins Grant to Make Medical Devices for Developing World
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 80 percent of the world’s medical equipment is designed for only 10 percent of the population. After all, what’s the point of having the latest cutting-edge device if you live in the developing world without a steady source of electricity? However, Grand Rapids, MI-based med tech startup Sisu Global Health is on a mission to help change that statistic.
Sisu has created the Hemafuse, a patent-pending, blood autotransfusion device that looks like a large syringe and is used to collect and retransfuse a patient’s blood during an internal hemorrhage. In sub-Saharan Africa, internal bleeding is often treated with the “kitchen soup ladle method,” which involves salvaging a patient’s blood by using a soup ladle and then spooning the blood through gauze before putting it back in the patient’s body, says Sisu’s chief marketing officer Katherine Kirsch. She (perhaps unnecessarily) points out that it’s a less-than-sanitary process that could lead to complications.
Kirsch says the Hemafuse, which suctions a patient’s blood through a filter and transfers it directly to a blood bag, is safer, faster, and requires fewer medical professionals to operate successfully. “In Africa, there’s often a shortage of donor blood,” she says. “The Hemafuse is meant to upgrade the soup-ladle method and alleviate the need for donor blood.”
Sisu Global Health—which is led by Kirsch, chief technology officer Gillian Henker, and CEO Carolyn Yarina—won a $250,000 seed grant last week from “Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development,” a global competition for groundbreaking, scalable technology to combat infant and maternal mortality whose sponsors include USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Ectopic pregnancies are a common cause of internal bleeding in sub-Saharan Africa.)
“With the $250,000, we’ll be able to do injection molding to make prototypes of our device for regulatory testing,” Kirsch says. “The goal is to make the Hemafuse less expensive.”
Though Sisu Global Health is a double bottom line company—one just as concerned with benefit to society as profit—Kirsch says the market for the Hemafuse is $2 million in Ghana alone, and approximately $2.1 billion across sub-Saharan Africa. The Hemafuse costs about $6 per patient to use.
Sisu has also gotten support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and GR Current, a business incubator focused on West Michigan tech startups. The company plans to first pursue a CE mark, the European version of FDA approval, because it’s a faster process. Kirsch says Sisu hopes to get the CE mark within two years.
The company is also is the midst of raising an $800,000 seed round to finish commercializing the Hemafuse and get a second product, a patent-pending modular centrifuge that can separate blood without electricity, to market. Sisu is currently recruiting a chief financial officer, as well.
Ultimately, Sisu Global Health wants to create a pipeline of inexpensive, functional medical devices for use in the developing world, where device designs must take into consideration what doctors and nurses truly need in regions where things like a stable source of electricity or simple blood transfusions aren’t readily available.
“This is what we’re really dedicated to doing, and we’ve given up a lot for this,” Kirsch says. “We really want to be a Michigan company with an international focus.”