Smarter ventilation thanks to better measurement
Dutch high-end technology supplier DEMCON has taken over Groningen-based company Inbiolab. Inbiolab is specialised in measuring muscle tension in respiratory muscles, in premature babies, for example. This expertise is interesting to DEMCON subsidiary Macawi Medical Systems, which develops and manufactures respirators for patients of all ages. ‘With their expertise we can make our technology even more intelligent’, says Macawi’s CTO Geert van Dijk.
The diaphragm plays an important role in breathing. When the diaphragm muscle tenses, it causes the chest cavity to expand, triggering inhalation. If the muscle tension can be measured in a patient on a ventilator, the respiration provided by the equipment can be synchronised to the patient’s own (weak) breathing. This delivers better results. The University Medical Center Groningen has for many years carried out research in cooperation with other university hospitals in the Netherlands and abroad. Inbiolab was established in 2010 to launch the technology under the name Dipha.
Sophisticated signal processing
The measurement method Inbiolab has developed is based on measurement of muscle tension, known as surface electromyogram (sEMG). This EMG is measured by sensors in patches or a band on the patient’s skin. A competitive product measures the EMG using a probe inserted into the oesophagus; this invasive method is stressful for patients, particularly premature babies. Technically, measuring through the skin, at a greater distance from the diaphragm, does pose a challenge. This is where Inbiolab’s expertise comes into play: measuring a weak EMG signal, which is also drowned by the 1,000-times stronger EMG activity of the nearby heart. It is a question of sophisticated signal processing using advanced hardware (amplifiers) and smart software (algorithms).
The future of respiration
This measurement method is very interesting for Macawi Medical Systems, which develops and manufactures artificial respiration equipment. A high-dynamic centrifugal blower makes it possible for a single piece of equipment to ventilate any patient, from premature babies to adults, just by changing the tubes. Macawi is continuously working to optimise this ventilation technology, says CTO Geert van Dijk. ‘We are searching for enhanced methods to synchronise breathing, for example. We are currently looking at changes in the flow or pressure, but these are the result of the patient’s own effort; so you’re already too late. If you can recognise at an earlier stage that the patient is beginning to inhale, you can help them and they will feel more comfortable. Inbiolab’s specialism allows us to make our technology even more intelligent. “Patient ventilation synchronisation” is the future of respiration.’ All reason for Macawi’s parent company DEMCON’s decision to take over Inbiolab.
Inbiolab, in turn, was open to the takeover, says project manager Jurryt Vellinga. ‘We had already been seeking contact with market parties such as manufacturers of respiration equipment for some time. Under the umbrella of DEMCON, we will be able to make use of their extensive engineering capabilities, their quality assurance system and other benefits. Macawi deals with the same parties as we do; so working together will deliver synergy.’ This also applies to HR, as Patrick Kleuskens, Managing Director of Macawi, will take responsibility for the day-to-day management of Inbiolab. Vellinga: ‘All concerns within the market will be removed by the combination of Inbiolab with DEMCON and Macawi.’
IC and more
The partners will set up new development projects, in the area of clinical applications. Inbiolab expects to launch its first product within two years, for the IC of premature babies. ‘We hope to expand this to the IC of adults soon after.’ He also sees opportunities for other applications, such as monitoring chronic lung patients or screening children experiencing breathing difficulties. As well as respiration, there are very different bodily functions that the Inbiolab technology could be used to measure. ‘We have already carried out a project based on measuring pelvic floor muscles in people who are incontinent. We can also measure EMG activity in the brain. This is carried out using patches on the patient’s skin, so needles no longer need to be inserted into the skull.’
The takeover of Inbiolab fits in with DEMCON’s strategy for growth in the international medical-technology market, explains Michiel Jannink, responsible for the medical business unit of the DEMCON Group as a whole. ‘They will strengthen Macawi’s range of respiration products. This is important for DEMCON, as Macawi reinforces our market position, particularly in Germany, and boosts our production. We also see opportunities for the development of other medical products.’ Inbiolab will continue to be based in Groningen for the time being. ‘The researchers have built up their life-sciences and high-tech network here’, says Jannink. ‘This is interesting for us. In time, they will form a springboard for DEMCON to expand its activities in the northern Netherlands.’