Polio couldn’t deter Aneesh. Now, he stands tall with his innovated KAFO that BETiC, on the IIT-Powai campus, helped him build
Aneesh Karma, 36, was afflicted with polio in his childhood. Born of parents without education, Aneesh could not complete his studies because his family was poor. “But I didn’t want to lose out to fate. Disabilities shouldn’t be any obstacle to success for anyone. It was my dream to invent better calipers for myself and for others like me,” says Aneesh, a native of Bulandshahr, in Uttar Pradesh.
Aneesh was seen beaming with pride as he stood tall beside his medical innovation — knee ankle foot orthosis (KAFO), popularly known as calipers — a medical device that helps people with weak legs walk. Aneesh’s KAFO was one of the 20 novel medical devices on display at the 5th Annual Symposium and Medical Device Expo held at IIT-Bombay between April 12 and 13. The event was organised by the Biomedical Engineering and Technology (incubation) Centre (BETiC), as part of IIT-Bombay’s diamond jubilee celebrations.
Doctors people afflicted with polio, or paralysis, or accident victims require KAFO. Some organisations provide these calipers for free to the poor, but they are not comfortable. While imported devices are of superior quality, they are too costly for the common man.
After knocking on many doors, Aneesh found BETiC, a unique lab nestled within the IIT-Powai campus. Here, natural innovators like him work closely with each other, guided by top doctors and mentors, to bring innovative ideas to life. Many of them begin their own company in the Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE), IIT-B’s technology business incubator — to take their products to the market.
Among other inventions on display at the expo were the Ayulynk Smart Stethoscope (to record and send heart and lung sounds of rural patients to urban doctors for correct diagnosis), diabetic foot screener (to prevent long-term ulceration and amputation) and hybrid plaster splint (to immobilize fractured bones to prevent further damage during transport). “These three products won the prestigious Biotechnology Ignition Grant award of Rs50 lakh from BIRAC, New Delhi, which is being used for pilot production, testing and marketing of the products,” said Dr Rupesh Ghyar, senior executive officer, BETiC.
“India’s a land of many challenges, as well as opportunities, especially in affordable healthcare. A wide range of medical devices and equipment is required for diagnosis and treatment of various diseases. However, even 72 years after Independence, 78% of these products are imported. At BETiC, we’re trying to build an ecosystem that brings doctors, researchers, engineers and entrepreneurs together for the innovation of indigenous medical devices to bridge this gap. We have a few success stories, but much remains to be done,” says Prof. B Ravi, founder of BETiC.
Today, BETiC and 10 partner institutes across Maharashtra have over 100 researchers working closely with doctors to develop novel and affordable medical devices. In the past five years, they have filed 50 patents and licensed 12 technologies to start-up companies and industry partners.
Renowned nuclear scientist Padma Vibhushan Dr Anil Kakodkar; Dr Neeraj Saxena, Adviser, AICTE (All-India Council for Technical Education), Delhi; Dr Manish Agarwal, Hinduja Hospital; Rajiv Mehta of the Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust; Dr Dasmit Singh, paediatric surgeon, BJ Medical College; Dr Hemant Bhansali, Nanavati Hospital; Dr Alaric Aroojis, BJ Wadia Hospital; Dr Nishigandha Naik, director of Haffkine Institute and Prof. BB Ahuja, director of COE, Pune, were some of the prominent names from the medical and research fraternity who attended the two-day annual programme to discuss the progress and means to sustain the activities.
“One of the best examples of an innovation ecosystem thriving in Indian conditions can be seen in the BETiC network anchored at IIT-Bombay. Its unique culture of inter-disciplinary, multi-institution collaboration is highly effective in creating medical device success stories. Such ecosystems should be scaled up and replicated across the country,” shares Dr Anil Kakodkar.
BETiC – Biomedical Engineering & Technology incubation Centre was established at IIT-Bombay in 2014, followed by satellite centers at VNIT, Nagpur, and COE, Pune, in 2015. These were funded by the RGSTC, Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai, and DST, Government of India, New Delhi, to catalyse indigenous medical device innovation and entrepreneurship.
The faculty team of BETiC comprises a dozen investigators and associates at the three institutes. About 75 researchers, project managers and students (Ph.D, Masters and B.Tech) worked at the centres. Many of them incubated their start-up companies, joined the healthcare industry or pursued higher studies. Over 50 expert clinicians and industry professionals are closely associated with BETiC as mentors, facilitators or domain experts.
The bedside-bench-business model evolved by BETiC enables traversing the ‘valleys of death’ between idea, invention, innovation and impact in healthcare.