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GVSU, Beaumont Health develop medical device for people with neuromuscular diseases

  • From left: Sam Oostendorp, Jake Stephens, Jordan Vanderham, Austin Williams
  • a photo of the cough assist device.
  • The idea for the invention came from Bassel Salman, a pediatrician who specializes in critical care at Beaumont Health in Royal Oak.

Posted on May 04, 2018

A group of engineering students from Grand Valley State University partnered with Beaumont Health to create a medical device that has the potential to improve the quality of life for people with neuromuscular diseases.

The cough assist device was created to help clear the airway of individuals with diseases such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis. The device, about the size of a stack of textbooks, is patent pending and was recently licensed to be commercially manufactured in China, making it the first commercial licensing agreement for Grand Valley's engineering program.

"We designed the device to be used for people of all ages who have pulmonary problems — from child to adult," said Jake Stephens, one of four students who designed and built the device. "We aimed to make it simple and easy to use and are thrilled with how it turned out."

Jordan Vanderham, a member of the student team, said several cough assist devices exist, but they are heavy, expensive and require electricity to operate. This new device is portable, lightweight and made out of plastic and vinyl. It includes a tube attached to a face mask and two valves to control air pressure and volume. It requires no electricity to operate.

Through a collaboration agreement between Beaumont Health and Grand Valley's School of Engineering, students majoring in product design and manufacturing engineering were tasked with designing and building a prototype of the device under the guidance of engineering professor John Farris. 

The idea for the invention came from Bassel Salman, a pediatrician who specializes in critical care at Beaumont Health in Royal Oak. He noticed a need for his patients to have a cough assist device that is more affordable and portable.

“I am hopeful this device will impact patient care by offering patients worldwide a better quality of life by decreasing the cost of more intensive therapy," Salman said. "Compared with other cough products on the market, our device does the same at less cost."

The Beaumont Commercialization Center negotiated a license with TechBank Medical, a Shanghai-based medical commercialization organization.

"For developed markets, like the U.S., this technology will provide a truly portable device that is small, lightweight and does not require electrical power. For developing markets, like China and India, the design allows for those previously unable to afford a cough assist device to finally get relief from their disease, as the technology has a simple and low-cost design,” said Brad Yang, founder and CEO of TechBank Medical. 

This is the first time Grand Valley has worked with Beaumont Health, but it's not the first time students in the engineering program have given life to medical device ideas. The university has several similar collaboration agreements with area health care providers to identify needs and build medical devices. Engineering students have worked with Mercy Health and Spectrum Health, among others. 

"These collaborations bring together clinical and engineering expertise," said Linda Chamberlain, of Grand Valley's Technology Commercialization Office. "We want the student engineers to have a valuable experience and the clinical teams we work with to have solutions. It's a great way for us to work together to solve a problem." 

The students completed the project as part of a one-semester class; the group includes Sam Oostendorp, Austin Williams, Jake Stephens and Jordan Vanderham.