GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — Three women with an amazing vision have recently come together in an effort to change the world, one medical device at a time. Gillian Henker, Carolyn Yarina and Katie Kirsch are joining forces under the name Sisu Global Health, a start-up partnership working to commercialize new medical devices and create a pipeline for them to reach the developing world, and specifically Ghana.
The partnership is a collaboration between two existing Michigan companies, Design Innovations for Infants and Mothers Everywhere, Inc. (DIIME) and CentriCycle. Henker is the founder and CEO of DIIME, while Yarina is the CEO of CentriCycle. Kirsch recently began working with CentriCycle as the chief marketing officer.
Both organizations share common roots at the University of Michigan’s engineering program, where Yarina and Henker first met. They kept in touch after graduation, and even considered combining efforts a few years back.
It wasn’t until recently, when Yarina began pondering the idea of incorporating for-profit aspects into CentriCycle’s non-profit business model, that the idea for Sisu Global began to take shape.
The start-up has since evolved quickly, making its home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where medical device manufacturing abounds.
The company plans on completing the development of two specific devices: DIIME’s Hemafuse technology and CentriCycle’s (r)Evolve. These products will be used as the “pilot,” to see exactly how and where affordable medical technology will be needed in Ghana. The company plans on expanding to other developing nations in the future.
Both technologies are essential in these countries, where medical infrastructure is often lacking.
The Hemafuse was created by Henker at DIIME, as a blood auto-transfusion system that withdraws blood from an internal hemorrhage and transfers it back to the patient. This device is essential in the developing world as blood donations are quite rare, and the current mechanism for transferring blood is unsterile and outdated.
The (r)Evolve device is a manual hand-crank blood centrifuge developed by CentriCycle that separates blood for rapid and accurate diagnostic testing of common diseases such as Hepatitis B and C, malaria and diabetes.
Both technologies are examples of low-tech devices that are incredibly accurate and culturally appropriate.
“We’re not trying to do pared-down solutions of what’s here in the West, but culturally-appropriate designs in these areas that fit the different constraints there,” says Yarina.
Henker, chief technology officer at Sisu, adds to this idea, “It’s not just a matter of making things cheaper and simplifying things. A lot of these people [in the developing world]are highly technically-trained, they’re educated doctors and things like that. Really, it’s more of a shift in thinking in terms of, ‘what do they need?’ What we think of in the Western world isn’t always appropriate.”
Both Henker and Yarina have spent extensive time on the ground in Ghana, observing the issues that are wracking the country with what experts call the “medical device graveyard.” 96 percent of medical devices end up here, including those that are unable to withstand the hot climatic conditions and the rigorous conditions of rural travel, or that are simply not practical in those environments.
Sisu Global Health plans on avoiding this graveyard at all costs by creating user-friendly, accurate and sustainable technologies that will be able to withstand the most extreme of conditions.
The word “sisu” is of Finnish origin, meaning determination or perseverance against adversity. Sisu Global Health’s medical devices plan on doing just that.