Compact life-support system could save lives of newborns

A Strathclyde University spin-out has developed a smaller and simpler life-support system that could save the lives of newborn babies with under-developed hearts and lungs.

Rathlin Medical created the Extra Corporeal Life Support (ECLS) system after receiving more than £1m in funding from Scottish Enterprise and Strathclyde University for a proof-of-concept programme.

‘The technology does the job of the heart and lungs by taking blood out of the body, pumping it around the device, re-oxygenating it, keeping it at the right temperature and then putting it back in,’ said chief executive officer David Bowie.

Bowie explained that there are occasions when a ventilator cannot provide enough oxygen and a system such as Rathlin Medical’s needs to be used, adding that it could be utilised in a number of critical clinical settings from intensive-care units to operating rooms.

Traditional solutions are complex, assembled by users from multiple component suppliers, and have a large footprint requiring constant monitoring and maintenance during use, he said.

‘Large current systems add other non-patient blood products to the circuit to ensure the circuit is complete and there is no air in it,’ explained Bowie. ‘So you’re diluting the patient’s own blood and that has an effect on the body.

‘Ours, being smaller, means it’s out of the body for less time and interacting with fewer foreign objects.’

The size of current equipment prevents mother and baby bonding but Rathlin Medical’s solution overcomes this issue by being fully integrated, compact, portable and self powered.

The technology can also be used in treating critically ill adults suffering with respiratory and cardiac problems to allow recovery from severe respiratory problems such as swine flu.

Bowie recently travelled to Boston after being selected to attend the Future Health Mission by the Technology Strategy Board. 

‘We’re looking for funding to take prototype design into a manufacturable product,’ he said. ‘So I’m looking for investment and potential partners.’