An End to Infant Jaundice
The San Francisco nonprofit and the lamp that is helping end severe infant jaundice around the world.
The Tech Awards, presented by Applied Materials, will be held Nov. 17, 2016. This year, The Tech Awards will celebrate a retrospective of the program’s history by honoring seven past laureates who have made an enormous difference in the world. For more information visit: www.thetech.org/tech-awards-presented-applied-materials.
Each year, 6 million infants around the world suffer from jaundice. The condition can be easily treated by shining an intense blue light on the skin of those sick babies. And yet far too many newborns never receive that care, risking severe brain damage and even death.
Why? Cost and access.
But the San Francisco nonprofit D-Rev is changing that dynamic by providing lifesaving neonatal phototherapy to the world’s most vulnerable. It has designed an innovative lamp called Brilliance that is inexpensive and durable enough to handle the often-harsh conditions of the developing world.
“It’s really exciting when you go to a hospital and you see our units being used,” said Krista Donaldson, the CEO of D-Rev. “It’s incredible how thankful families are that their babies are getting good treatment. You also feel a lot of pride from the medical staff that they finally have the equipment to treat their patients.”
D-Rev, a Tech Awards laureate in 2013, is being honored again this year as part of a retrospective gala on Nov. 17, 2016, celebrating the program’s first 15 years. D-Rev will be recognized with the Sutter Health Award for the impact it has had since first being named a laureate. It will receive a $50,000 prize. Learn more about all of this year’s laureates.
When The Tech Awards first recognized D-Rev for the device, 324 babies had been treated in four countries. Today, more than 175,000 infants have received phototherapy, averting an estimated 2,200 deaths and disabilities. Nearly 1,700 of the low-cost units have now been sold in 41 countries
“There’s a lot of focus on the latest and the greatest of technology that doesn’t necessarily lead to impact. The Tech Awards are very focused on saying that the technology has to lead to something important. It can’t be just exciting for its own sake. It really needs to lead to changes in the human condition. I think The Tech has played a very important function in educating not only the world, but especially Silicon Valley.”
— Krista Donaldson, CEO of D-Rev
Not only has D-Rev — short for Design Revolution — continued to upgrade the Brilliance model, it also is expanding into other products. A knee-joint replacement for amputees called ReMotion Knee debuted in 2015. The philosophy is to disrupt the medical technology industry by delivering low-cost devices that create competition and close the healthcare gap.
“What really guides us is developing world-class products for people who traditionally are not served by the marketplace,” Donaldson said. “There are huge populations of people who can benefit from well-established designs, technologies and treatments if we can cut out some of the cost. We believe that regardless of your income, you deserve access to high-quality medical devices.”
Leading the way for D-Rev is Donaldson, a native of Nova Scotia who said social entrepreneurship is “just baked into my DNA.” She has a mechanical engineering degree from Vanderbilt University as well as two master’s degrees and a doctorate from Stanford. Donaldson has done design engineering work in Kenya and was an economic officer with the U.S. State Department, helping restore electricity in Iraq during the reconstruction effort.
With D-Rev, Donaldson identified infant jaundice as a solvable problem that wasn’t being addressed by the international health community. Jaundice is a yellow discoloration in a newborn baby’s skin and eyes caused by an excess of bilirubin, a pigment in red blood cells.
Phototherapy treatment is effective when the condition is detected early enough. The problem is that western-style devices are either too expensive for poor countries or break down quickly in rugged environments where heat, dust, voltage surges and lack of spare parts like lightbulbs are the norm.
D-Rev solved that by designing an ingeniously tough phototherapy lamp. Then it partnered with Phoenix Medical Systems in India to manufacture machines for just $400 each, compared to about $3,000 for a traditional lamp. While D-Rev’s research and development is accomplished through a philanthropic model, it also works with for-profit distributors to expand access to the products worldwide.
Released in 2012, Brilliance quickly has become a model example of how lifesaving medical devices don’t have to be prohibitively expensive.
“In one of my first weeks with D-Rev, we met with a doctor and administrator from the Philippines, and they were raving about how great it was to find this product and how it was affordably priced,” said Jorge Robert, who is in charge of development and partnerships. “At first they thought it was a typo.”
Robert has a successful background in hedge funds. He joined Donaldson and D-Rev because he was looking for a chance to change — and save — lives.
“I reflected on the kind of impact I wanted to make on this world and felt compelled to apply my capital-raising experience to D-Rev,” he said. “This was a great opportunity to join a really entrepreneurial organization focusing on innovation and making a real impact. It just makes me feel really good about the work that I’m doing.”
With Brilliance, the hope is that brain damage or death from jaundice becomes a “never event” in the next decade. D-Rev now has partnerships with 400 hospitals and 600 medical professionals in 20 countries. And its reach continues to grow.
“We’re definitely growing our product portfolio,” Donaldson added. “We’re listening to people who are saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea,’ or a doctor who says, ‘How about this?’ We’re just interested in helping have an impact.”
At a Glance: D-Rev
Year of Previous Award: 2013
Regions of Impact: Global
Funding Sources: Nonprofit model with donations from a mix of foundations, universities, governments, corporations and private donors. D-Rev works with for-profit distributors to give products the widest reach possible.
Problem: Jaundice is the No. 1 reason newborns are re-admitted to hospitals around the world. Without effective treatment, jaundice can lead to severe brain damage and even death. An estimated 6 million babies in developing countries suffer each year because their families lack access to phototherapy devices.
Solution: D-Rev developed low-cost phototherapy lamps rugged enough for harsh environments. The Brilliance series of neonatal machines have provided potentially life-saving treatment to more than 175,000 infants.