Breath of inspiration

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership is helping a UK company to become a leader in the non-pharmacological management of chronic disease.

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) is helping a small company in the Midlands to become a leader in the non-pharmacological management of chronic disease.

It began with the commercialisation of a modest research tool and is becoming a major success story.

The product that initiated the collaboration was POWERbreathe, a simple mechanical product for training the inspiratory muscles.

‘I needed a reliable way to train the inspiratory muscles so that I could examine the hypothesis that making them stronger would reduce the sense of breathing effort during exercise,’ explained Prof Alison McConnell from Brunel’s Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance.

‘To cut a long story short, I ended up having to design my own training device… a sort of dumbbell for the diaphragm that allows the application of weight training to the inspiratory muscles. As it turned out, the data supported my original hypothesis, so my then employer suggested that I might like to try commercialising it,’ continued McConnell, who then had a short and successful period of running a spin-out company, until 2000, when POWERbreathe was taken over by Gaiam Ltd.

Alison’s collaboration with Gaiam started immediately when they took over POWERbreathe.

The first KTP between the Professor and the company produced a completely redesigned model that used the same basic Intellectual Property (IP), and the successful completion of this project spurred Gaiam on to more ambitious goals, with another KTP that will shortly result in the production of an electromechanical product with improved functionality.

As with the original product, the basic premise for the new IP was developed by Prof McConnell, and is based on her academic insight.

‘The electromechanical area is something I had absolutely no knowledge of as a physiologist, I knew what I wanted the device to do, but not how to achieve it. Fortunately, I had fantastic support from two colleagues from the School of Engineering and Design (Peter Broomhead and Dr Cecelja Franjo).’

McConnell’s original mechanical product has been approved for prescription for the treatment of breathlessness in patients with chronic conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart failure, but the new electronic product will be even more versatile, and better suited to use by very ill patients. The POWERbreathe products also improve performance in athletes and have been used by Olympic and World Champions.

The success of the POWERbreathe in the clinical area has led to a strategic shift by the company from a focus on healthy lifestyle products to one that will also include other non-pharmacological treatments for chronic diseases.

‘Sadly, chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity are here to stay, and are affecting a growing number of people. Whilst this is bad for those affected, and for the UK economy as a whole, it presents a market opportunity to companies with vision, and the support of academics with bright ideas and the right expertise. The pharmaceutical companies meet some of the need in this area, but we want to be able to offer people other, complimentary ways to manage these conditions,’ explained Gaiam’s MD, Harry Brar.

The current range of Powerbreathe products is available in the high street and online.

For more information visit POWERbreathe website at