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This Low-Cost Device Recycles A Person’s Blood When They Can’t Get A Transfusion

In the developing world, transfusions can mean the difference between life and death. But the supplies and machines are costly. This device lets you recycle a person’s own blood, for cheap.

If you’re rushed to a hospital in America and need blood fast, it’s safe to assume a bag or two will be available for you. Not so in rural Africa and other parts of the developing world. In those countries, supplies are short and contamination rates are high.

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Sisu Global Health wants to help hospitals with an alternative– autotransfusion—where a patient’s blood is recirculated back into his or her body. The process allows hospitals to conserve blood and avoid additional infections from using new blood. But in under-resourced hospitals, the machinery involved is often rudimentary. In some cases, hospitals will use nothing better than a kitchen ladle to scoop out blood from internal cavities, then pass it through a gauze.

“The imagery makes it sound like it’s happening out in the bush, but it’s actually happening in the largest hospitals,” says Sisu CEO Carolyn Yarina. “It’s not because they don’t have the money–they’re spending money on blood. It’s because the only good technology that exists is these large mechanical pieces of equipment we use in the U.S.” Those machines–like this one–cost upwards of $30,000 a time.

Sisu’s device is called the Hemafuse. It’s a hand-pump that sucks up blood from a chest or abdominal injury. Then, when you push down again, the blood passes through a one-way valve to a blood bag for later use. There’s also a filter for cleaning out clots and particulates. “When blood is pooling in a body cavity, it’s not transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. It’s just sitting there and not doing any good,” says Yarina. “You need to put it back in the veins because there’s a leak in the plumbing.”

Yarina recently picked up the social impact prize at the SXSW Eco Awards and the Sisu received $100,000 when AOL founder Steve Case’s “Rise of the Rest Road Trip” swung through Baltimore in September. The startup is looking to raise $700,000 during its seed round, which Yarina hopes to close by next February.

While still a chemical engineering undergraduate at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Yarina developed another prototype device called (r)Evolve, a blood centrifuge that works without electricity. She later teamed up with Gillian Henker, another Michigan student, who had witnessed the ladle-and-gauze show at a hospital in India. Together with marketing officer Katie Kirsch, the company plans to launch a series of low-cost medical devices in under-resourced communities.

“The biggest gap is that medical devices is not being designed these markets, and we’re working to prove that there is a market. The more money we make, the more we can get into these markets, and therefore the more lives we can save,” Yarina says.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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