HOUSTON - Medical equipment for children is typically majorly under-funded. Now a local company is in the national spotlight, after winning a competition for a medical device to help children. VITLS, which is based in Houston, just won the “Make Your Medical Device Pitch for Kids!” Competition. Children’s National Hospital and the University of Maryland, came up with the idea to help get more pediatric devices on the market.
They focused on devices that could help during a pandemic, all while bringing more innovation to children’s healthcare. "We developed a wearable device that monitors vital signs continuously. So currently, if you think of a Band-Aid. So it looks like this. It's worn on the chest, uses an adhesive, and it has an optical sensor that records vital signs and a temperature sensor as well. So we clicked everything a nurse would monitor when she or he comes to your bedside, and we do it continuously, which gives you great clarity into how a patient's vital signs change.
If they have an infection or something, you can see the fever starting to build up slowly," states Werner Vorster, the CEO of VITLS. His background is in software engineering and he used that knowledge to develop the warning device after his son suffered fever-related seizures. "So we would know when a fever was coming on and we could treat him or try and keep his temperature down, so he wouldn't have the seizures because it's very stressful. It doesn't really hurt him unless it's very long, but as a parent, it was really stressful. So we couldn't find anything than to do that, so it kind of snowballed into developing this and starting a company. We realized that there's a bigger need for monitoring in hospitals and there is for parents," states Werner.
Children's National Hospital is impressed with the concept that could help in or out of a hospital setting. "We're trying to close the gap that currently exists between innovation in adult healthcare and pediatrics, and our specific focus is on medical devices for children. Now, there is a perception that children are generally healthy, and that the market is simply too small for manufacturers to work on medical devices for children, so it all boils down to financials. It's a very small market, and it's very hard for the corporations and big manufacturing companies to justify the return on investment," explains Dr. Kolaleh Eskandanian, Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer of Children’s National Hospital.
A large grant from the Food and Drug Administration will pave the way for more children's devices through this contest. Part of that was a $50,000 grant to VITLS. Werner says he plans to use that to enhance his product and get it on the market sooner, as well as to help to start developing another product.
The competition was steep and now eight of the devices could be on the market soon. "So among those, there is a portable ICU ventilator for pediatric, as well as adult patients. There is a smart otoscope that quickly and accurately diagnoses ear infections, which can be so helpful to patients. So parents don't parents and patients so they don't have to go to the hospital for this very routine care that could be monitored from their home," says Dr. Eskandanian.