Rural Health Centers Can Breathe Easy With the O2 Cube
The durable, solar-powered device is a cost-effective option to make medical oxygen more accessible in developing nations, and it received $50K at the Pitt Innovation Challenge
The O2 Cube, a bioengineering-led project, was awarded $50,000 at the 2021 Pitt Innovation Challenge (PInCh) on October 13, 2021 for a solar powered, supplemental oxygen system that can rapidly bring medical oxygen to rural health centers in need.
Infectious diseases, including pneumonia, are the leading cause of death for children worldwide, and health centers in developing countries often lack the infrastructure and resources to access life-saving oxygen for patients in need. The O2 Cube was designed to address this global challenge by creating a durable, cost-effective device that produces oxygen on-site.
“The O2 Cube pairs existing medical oxygen technology designed for in-home use with a solar power system to produce supplemental oxygen in rural health facilities,” said Kilichan Gurleyik, DSc, assistant professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Medical grade oxygen of up to 93 percent purity is produced by processing ambient air through an oxygen concentrator which is then piped to an oxygen compressor to fill cylinders.”
This device is the first product for LeanMed, a local start-up dedicated to improving access to healthcare in developing regions through innovative solutions. It was recently recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a 2021 Innovative Health Technology for Low Resource Settings.
This year, LeanMed entered into a global licensing agreement with Philips Respironics to utilize the UltraFill filling station which allows the O2 Cube to fill cylinders up to 3000 psi.
Due to the rural health care facilities’ lack of grid electricity, they are unable to produce a sufficient oxygen supply that is necessary to provide adequate treatment. Although some have the option to source oxygen cylinders from the nearest production facility, it is often expensive and subject to delays and high transportation costs. The O2 Cube solution provides rural health facilities with a solar-powered oxygen production system on-site.
“Due to the rural health care facilities’ lack of grid electricity, they are unable to produce a sufficient oxygen supply that is necessary to provide adequate treatment,” added Mark Adkins, NPDP, adjunct professor of bioengineering at Pitt and CEO of LeanMed. “Although some have the option to source oxygen cylinders from the nearest production facility, it is often expensive and subject to delays and high transportation costs.The O2 Cube solution provides rural health facilities with a solar-powered oxygen production system on-site.”
The Covid-19 pandemic adds an additional layer of urgency for a system like the O2 Cube that can deliver oxygen quickly to vulnerable populations. In addition to the $35K PInCh award, the group received an additional $15K as a health disparity bonus award.
In response to the pandemic, the LeanMed team implemented an O2 Cube Fast Track project using FDA-approved medical devices. The developed system received donations from Philips, GoalZero, and Masimo and is currently being introduced to facilities in Nigeria and Uganda.
Martha Mulerwa, a bioengineering specialist at WHO, facilitates communication between LeanMed and the Ugandan health care facilities and noted this technology’s potential impact on saving lives: “Oftentimes people are transported to rural cities from the regional referral hospitals without oxygen, but with the O2 Cube we can provide them small cylinders that they will use...and we can save a life in transit.”
Along with Gurleyik and Adkins, the O2 Cube team included James Newton, an MD candidate at Pitt’s School of Medicine; Anupama Shah, a master’s student in business administration and medical product engineering at Pitt; Jessica Starck, MS, an industrial engineering alumnus (MSIE ‘20); Alyson Maguire, a senior digital marketing and analytics student at Duquesne University; Anna Dzuricky, a bioengineering graduate student who currently works for Philips Respironics; and Zexi Liu, a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University.