Most Columbia alums dream of a cushy job in trading or a somewhat successful book deal. But four Bio-Medical Engineering graduates are starting their post-college careers not by working in a coffee bar, but by saving a few thousand lives. Actually, more than a few thousand, if Tampostat, the group’s BME senior design project that won the Columbia Capstone Award, becomes as globally successful as it promises to be. Mikail Kamal (SEAS 2012), John Esau (SEAS 2012), Marissa Dreyer (SEAS 2012), Jason Rosenberg (U.W. Madison 2012), and Anthony Elder (Fordham 2011) collaborated to form the start-up Jibonhealth, and hope to raise $50,000 by December 31st for Tampostat. Donate here to help out some fellow Columbians with a dream.
Read on to hear about ultra-realistic uterus models, unprecedented use of condoms, and general life-saving.
On what exactly this is all about:
First, some background: PPH, or post-partum hemorrhage, is the leading cause of maternal death worldwide. It occurs when — get ready for some heavy anatomy — after birth the uterus takes too long to contract to its regular shape, triggering devastating bleeding. Most PPH incidents occur during home births, when there’s not enough time to get to the hospital.
Mikail Kamal, the CEO of Jibonhealth and a SEAS 2012 graduate currently living in Brooklyn, explains it all to Bwog’s humanities major. “You can stop it in several different ways. People would take gauze and just stuff it in there (Bwog cringes). In third world countries that’s still the practice….In Bangladesh (one of the countries the U.N. singled out for PPH, and Mikail’s home country) 18,000 women die a year from it.”
Tampostat is designed for midwives without expertise or elaborate equipment, and is much cheaper than other PPH devices on the market that cost several hundred dollars and require invasive operations. The team’s first prototype took eight months to complete. A helpful diagram below:
The device uses a bulb pump (that’s the part that looks like a blood pressure pump) to apply pressure to the uterine walls (that’s what the condom does), temporarily reducing bleeding. A self-regulating pressure mechanism in the handle insures that a midwife cannot apply too much pressure by accident, and most of the parts are inexpensive and easily replaceable.
B: So how did this all start?
“BME is a really small department,” says Mikail. “Four or five of us got interested in global health. Our original project tried to measure how much blood was lost [during PPH]. After two or three weeks of working on it, I was like ‘Why don’t we actually try to solve it?’” (Initiative: it gets you places.) “We gave 20-30 hours a week throughout our entire senior year to the project.”
Keeping a uterus model simulating bleeding for eight hours straight is not only the ultimate dedication, but pretty time-consuming. How exactly did they make a uterus model? Apparently, the way that a baseball is stitched into a sphere is the exact same method you use to make a uterus out of foam. The engineers used the help of gynecologists to find the most accurate materials for their perfect pseudo-uterus, and the expert baseball knowledge of one of their team members to shape the foam into its full anatomical glory.
B: How is being incredibly young in this field working out for you?
Mikail conceded that the group’s youth “is a problem…. Over the summer I put together a solid table of people and established the company [Jibonhealth].” Most of the team members are SEAS 2012 grads. Some invaluable assets to balance their youthful vigor came in the form of “grey hair,” or really big advisors in the field–such as Dr. Hayden Huang from Columbia’s BME department–who provided sage, grey-haired wisdom.
B: How close was your team before the project?
“BME is irritating in that you’re super dispersed the first three years and together for the next two. One of [the people on the project] was my suite mate, another was a lab partner — the department is really small; it’s under 40 students. So going into it you’re close to start with.”
A side note on why we love Columbia Engineering:
“Columbia BME is one of the few programs in the nation where the design project is completely individual….from generating the idea to executing it it’s fully on students. That’s one of the reasons we were able to go so far.”
On the future:
Mikail and the fine engineers behind Jibonhealth knew that an immediate solution was more practical than attempting to change cultural traditions of home births, so their prerogative is to make those births safer. “In three to four months we’ll begin clinical trials [in Bangladesh],” Mikail says. “We’re doing a joint-venture in Bangladesh with two clinics….In five years we hope that multiple countries will have access to device. Every midwife [in certain districts with high occurrences of PPH] will have one.”
B: Any advice for hopeful future inventors?
“I know this sounds really cliche… but just go with your gut feeling. If you feel whatever you’re working on has potential just see it through. Even a month before graduation we had no idea how big [this] was going to be.” The team didn’t even expect winning the BME Capstone Award, although their friends assured them it was well-known beforehand.
And the choice of condoms? It was, of course, one of pure necessity and inspiration.
Mikail detailed the exhaustive process behind finding the perfect inflatable part. “We tried water balloons, helium balloons, regular balloons….We used gloves at one point. One day we just decided to use condoms. This was during spring break. We went to the health center.” Apparently two girls and a guy get really weird looks when asking for more than a few condoms during spring break: “We went through several dozen condoms.” The greatest –and most meta–use of contraceptives ever.
Like what you just read? Here’s the donation link again, just so you don’t have to scroll up again.
All images via Jibon Health