Montréal start-up takes the guess work out of pediatric care
Published on March 1st, 2022
NURA Medical’s IV Assistant™ facilitates medication preparation and ensures that children get the right dose every time
A team from McGill University have designed a life-saving arm bracelet that takes the guesswork out of weight-based pediatric medication dosing, avoiding costly mistakes and allowing for safer and more efficient emergency rooms
Sofia Addab, Jean-Gabriel Lacombe, and Georgia Powell are master’s students in the Department of Experimental Surgery at McGill University in Montréal. During a shared internship shadowing medical staff in the emergency room at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, the trio quickly identified that the time-consuming practice of calculating correct doses of IV medication by hand was leading to potential mistakes and disrupting workflow at critical points during the intake of trauma cases in the hospital’s emergency room, posing serious safety risks to children.
“We knew that we wanted to do something about it, and that we could do something about it,” says NURA Medical Chief Clinical Officer and Co-Founder, Sofia Addab.
Supported by $45,000 in research funding through the Mitacs Accelerate Entrepreneur Program, Addab, Lacombe, and Powell joined forces to come up with a solution. Thus, NURA Medical, a med-tech start-up with a mission to improve pediatric patient care and clinical efficiency in emergency situations, was launched in 2020.
The IV Assistant™
Working with pediatric emergency physician Dr. Ilana Bank, the NURA Medical team have developed a smart arm bracelet they’ve named the IV Assistant™. This breakthrough technology accurately predicts a child’s weight and subsequently performs the often-complex calculations typically done by hand to determine the correct dose of medication needed for a particular child.
While adult medication comes in standard doses, pediatric medication is prescribed according to the weight of the patient.
“Different child, different weight, difference dosage,” explains Addab. “The problem in busy medical environments,” she says, “is that physicians don’t have enough time to use a scale and, therefore, often guess a child’s weight based on age or height, or a combination of the two, putting a tremendous cognitive load on medical staff at such a critical point in care.”
The team went to work on creating a first-of-its-kind weight-predicting algorithm using American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) weight and arm measurement data.
“Through our research, we found that arm size is a better predictor for overall weight than current practices, so we leveraged it and digitized it,” says Jean-Gabriel Lacombe, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder.
By measuring the circumference of a child’s arm using the built-in retractable tape measure, the IV Assistant™ detects the pediatric patient’s weight and communicates this data to a companion web app that automatically determines the correct dose of medication required for that child while also providing support and directives to hospital staff in administering the medication.
“What our device does is automate the whole process to reduce the cognitive load on nurses,” explains Addab. “Not only are we removing the opportunity for human error, but we’re able to get that medication to that child as quickly as possible.”
An immeasurable impact
Early testing of NURA Medical’s IV Assistant™ at the Montreal Children’s Hospital is already showing a 50% reduction in medication errors and a decrease in the time it takes to prepare a dose of pediatric IV medication. With less medication getting wasted, the IV Assistant™ also has a savings potential of approximately $1.3 million annually for any Level 1 trauma centre regularly using the device.
As the NURA Medical team continues to work on testing and refining their technology, the young entrepreneurs credit Mitacs with providing the guidance and support they needed at a critical juncture of development.
“Mitacs really helped us to rapidly prototype our device in a medical setting by giving us access to a huge network of hospital professionals in the field who are the ones experiencing the challenges our company aims to solve,” says Georgia Powell, NURA Medical Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder.
With the support of Mitacs and its network of research experts, the team was able to develop a thorough research protocol that contributed to minimizing biases in their algorithmic weight predictions.
“Mitacs wasn’t just about funding. Mitacs gave us a leg up when it came to establishing our research protocol and provided the expertise to address algorithmic biases in what we were doing,” adds Lacombe.
On partnering with NURA Medical, Jesse Vincent-Herscovici, Vice-President of Business Development at Mitacs, is confident that the start-up will have a meaningful impact on Canada’s already growing medical device industry.
“NURA is a really nice example of connecting dots between multiple different realities,” he says. “You have this blending of clinical reality and the business aspect. And then you have the technical aspect, which is the actual device, which was a really nice mix of relatively simple mechanics but also very high-tech AI in order to turn those measurements into personalized medicine.”
But the potential impact of the IV Assistant™ goes beyond new algorithms and dollars saved.
“I think the impact is not really measurable. You’re saving children’s lives. These are people’s babies,” says Addab. “And I like that we’re providing healthcare professionals with tools to help them be better physicians.”
NURA Medical expects to have an IV Assistant™ prototype ready for regulatory approval as a class II medical device by the year 2023.