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3 Indians develop device for fecal incontinence

delhi Updated: Mar 28, 2010 01:28 IST
Anika Gupta

Three Indian researchers have developed a medical device that could provide a breakthrough in management of fecal incontinence (FI), a debilitating condition in which a patient loses control of basic bodily functions.

Amit Sharma, Nishith Chasmawala and Sandeep Singh say their design is more comfortable than a leave-in catheter — an insertable tube that’s currently used to treat FI — and will cost about as much as a day’s worth of adult diapers (Rs 150).

They came up with the idea while on a six-month tour of Indian hospitals that took them from state-of-the-art urban trauma centres to poky rural care booths. The inventors saw hundreds of families struggling to care for loved ones with FI.

They estimate that 58 per cent of patients in hospital intensive care units suffer from FI, as well as another 27 million patients who live at home and are cared for by their families.

Although there are medical devices that aim to treat FI — including leave-in catheters — these options are too expensive for the Indian market.

“We realised there was a massive unmet need,” says Sharma, an industrial designer.

The device is meant to be used by hospital patients, although they’re also working on a home-care version.

It has already been tested on five patients at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), and will be tested on five more after undergoing alternations. It is the first indigenously-developed device to be cleared for clinical testing at AIIMS.

“Fecal incontinence isn’t glamorous,” says Chasmawala, a plastics engineer who has invented more than seven medical devices. “But anyone who has seen a family caring for an afflicted person can’t help but feel compassion.”

Sharma and Chasmawala, who are engineers, met Singh, a cardiologist, because they were all fellows at the Stanford-India Biodesign Centre — a partnership programme between AIIMS, the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi and the US-based Stanford University. The programme provides fellowships to Indians to pursue cutting-edge medical device research.

Experts say the device could be a breakthrough in the management of FI. “This invention addresses a really critical medical need in India — one that affects a large number of patients and has essentially been overlooked to date,” said Paul Yock, director of the US branch of the biodesign programme at Stanford University. “The device is simple and easy to use — and has a chance to make a very big impact in the management of these patients.”

The team is running on $150,000 in funding, most of which came from the Department of Biotechnology. They have formed their own company, ConSure Medical, to file for international patents.

They say outside businesses have already expressed interest. The global market for such a device could be as much as $7 billion, although the researchers are currently focusing on India.

“When we talk to people about this device, they either believe in it or they don’t,” says Chasmawala. “A lot of the people I meet have been affected by this problem, people you would never expect.”