ECE alum Mihir Sheth receives Young Innovator Award from Innovate UK for making a medical device that weans patients off ventilators quicker
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were only thinking about providing ventilators to patients, but Mihir Sheth (BSE EE 2015; MSE EE:S 2016) was focused on what happens after.
“Everyone was looking at getting patients on a ventilator, but no one was looking at how to get them off,” Sheth said. “It blew my mind.”
Everyone was looking at getting patients on a ventilator, but no one was looking at how to get them off.
Ventilators, medical devices that mechanically pump oxygen into a patient’s body when they are unable to do so adequately on their own, have been a life-saving medical device for over a century, but they’re not a long-term treatment or solution. A patient can lose up to 32% of their respiratory muscle strength when kept on a ventilator for more than six days.
“I became increasingly frustrated as I saw patients slowly wasting away,” Sheth told UK Research and Innovation.
To address this issue, Sheth teamed up with Dr. Myra Malik, a consultant anesthetist. Together, they invented a non-invasive medical device that keeps patients’ muscles engaged when they are on a ventilator, which helps prevent muscle atrophy. This can reduce the total time a patient spends on a ventilator by 30%.
The project, which was initially called RespiTrain, is now growing into a company called Inspiritus Health, co-founded by Sheth and Malik. For his contributions, Sheth received a Young Innovator Award from Innovate UK.
“I am extremely grateful and fortunate to have won this award,” Sheth said. “It provides me with the business support needed to develop the company and bring the product to market.”
Sheth’s passion for using engineering to improve medical tools and devices was first sparked while he was at U-M. He’d originally planned on pursuing robotics, but through conversations with professors and peers, he began learning more about medical devices and inherent inequalities in their design, particularly how most medical devices are modeled on and designed for a small percentage of the global population.
“My interest completely switched to medical device development, specifically for lower- and middle-income countries, but it’s not like the track was that different,” Sheth said. “It’s extremely relevant, if not more important, to have good robust control systems in medical devices. It was the application of what I wanted to do that changed.”
As a master’s student, Sheth joined the student group M-HEAL (Michigan Health Engineered for All Lives). He worked on a project to design a heated incubator to help keep low birth weight and premature infants warm and healthy. The goal was to ensure the design would work even in places where there was little or no access to stable electricity.
“A friend working as a doctor told me that he hopes to see more biomedical devices that are effective, sustainable, and friendly,” Sheth said. “I came back to Michigan looking to get involved in that biomedical device space, and M-HEAL was the best way to do it.”
While Sheth has fond memories of studying with classmates at the Duderstadt, the white chocolate raspberry coffees from Mujo’s, and attaching a container of milk, hot chocolate, and creamer to a weather balloon during a class project to make space ice cream, he is most grateful for the breadth of multidisciplinary projects and the support for entrepreneurship at Michigan.
“What I appreciate the most is the ability that the EECS department afforded me to be able to branch out and acquire a broad knowledge,” Sheth said. “EECS and my mentors, like Prof. Ozay and Prof. Winful, allowed me the flexibility to figure out my own path, and that made such a huge difference. If you have good people around you, which Michigan does, EECS does, it gives you the social support and the foundation to jump higher.”
What I appreciate the most is the ability that the EECS department afforded me to be able to branch out and acquire a broad knowledge.
After Michigan, Sheth spent a few years working at Sisu Global Health, a startup that was focused on developing medical devices for clinicians in Ghana and Kenya. One of the devices he helped design was a blood autotransfusion device, so that blood can be returned to the patient, reducing the need for donor blood.
“I wanted to learn more about different contexts, so I could make the most relevant design,” Sheth said. “I’m so fortunate for that experience, for it gave me a completely different context to what I knew in India and the U.S.”
Sheth then came to Oxford, England, in January of 2020 as an Oxford Global Insight Fellow. He traveled to Senegal for a month to evaluate the needs of medical professionals in the clinics there, and had already begun work on RespiTrain when the pandemic hit.
“The really awesome thing with electrical engineering is how diverse and how varied its applications can be,” Sheth said. “It doesn’t have to always be about semiconductors and circuits. There are so many possibilities, because electrical engineering is everywhere.”