UCT biomedical engineers develop device to help people with allergies

Cape Town – Biomedical engineers from the Medical Devices Lab at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have developed a device to assist people prone to allergies.

According to associate professor Mike Levin, head of the Division of Asthma and Allergy at UCT, people with allergies develop an auto-immune condition called anaphylaxis. When the person is exposed to a substance that triggers an allergic reaction, they need to use an adrenaline auto-injector within 15 minutes or the results could be fatal.

“As we move towards a more westernised diet, the rates of allergies and anaphylaxis increase,” explained Gokul Nair, who invented the technology alongside Associate Prof Sudesh Sivarasu and Associate Prof Levin.

The new device, called a ZibiPen, is a reloadable adrenaline auto-injector that is less expensive than the ones currently on the market, which also expire within 18 months and can only be used once.

The ZibiPen can be customised for any patient with needle length and dose calculated by clinicians and set by pharmacists. According to UCT, this simple step is going to make this device more clinically effective, as well as more affordable.

“Current devices in the market are unintuitive and are based on the size of an average male which could pose problems for children, women and the obese,” UCT said in a statement.

The ZibiPen was recently recognised in the Emerging Medical Innovation Competition at the Design of Medical Devices Conference, where it placed second and was awarded a full technical and market evaluation by the Medical Industry Leadership Institute (MILI), valued at R180 000.

“Here you have a technology which can be very easily made accessible to the middle- and low-income group as well. But it is not made so because of business reasons, and also because the [current] technology doesn’t support it,” said Associate Prof Sivarasu, head of the Medical Devices Lab.

Research Contracts and Innovation at UCT partnered with the innovation team at a very early stage and has facilitated the intellectual property protection and commercialisation of the technology.

It is predicted that by 2020–2026, the rate of allergies and anaphylaxis will increase by over 40 to 50%.

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