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AUT Spinout Secures $1.5 M Investment For Innovative Respiratory Technology

A company formed to commercialise innovative respiratory technology, RespirAq, developed by Auckland University of Technology (AUT) researchers has secured $1.5m of investment from Outset Ventures, Icehouse Ventures, and Cure Kids Ventures.

AUT engineering student, Aruna Korshapati (left) and Dr Sandra Grau Bartual, testing RespirAq prototypes in one AUT’s School of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences laboratories.

AUT’s Vice-Chancellor, Derek McCormack, says the investment in RespirAq is the largest ever into any AUT-developed technology, and is a major success for the University’s commercialisation arm, AUT Ventures.

“RespirAq technology is the result of many years of perseverance and innovation by AUT engineers. It promises to make a real difference to patients requiring respiratory support and the people looking after them, and I’m thrilled the work of our researchers may now be used, not just in New Zealand, but around the world thanks to AUT Ventures.”

RespirAq technology is the first fundamentally new medical airway humidification technology in decades. The RespirAq active heated humidifier removes the need for bulky water supply, tubing and sensors, making it a remarkably elegant and compact solution for medical humidification. It was in part enabled due to a change of engineering approach, with lead developer and now RespirAq CEO Dr Sandra Grau Bartual being a chemical engineer. “Medical humidification has traditionally been approached as a physics problem, but the insight behind RespirAq technology was approached as a chemistry problem: how to controllably and efficiently bond and release a large number of water molecules,” says Dr Grau Bartual.

RespirAq uses a chemically activated “smart fabric” to humidify the air breathed by patients on ventilators and other types of respiratory support. Humidification is a routine standard of care, but existing medical humidifiers require a water supply and have problems with condensation forming in the air supply tubes. RespirAq provides the same level of humidification as humidifiers provided by well-known companies, but without the need to regularly refill water chambers and without creating any tube condensation.

RespirAq is the result of more than 10 years of research by AUT’s Professor Ahmed Al-Jumaily into improving respiratory humidification and therapies at the AUT Institute of Biomedical Technologies, which he leads. Dr Grau Bartual completed her PhD in 2018 under the supervision of Prof. Al-Jumaily.

Acting Dean of the Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies, Professor Felix Tan, says the patient-centred research at the Institute of Biomedical Technologies is outstanding. “RespirAq is a testament to the cross-disciplinary research team working together, and many years of perseverance to develop a better solution for medical humidification. My congratulations to all involved in its research and development.”

Last year the RespirAq team completed an in-hospital feasibility study in collaboration with Waikato Hospital and will be publishing the results of the trial soon.

RespirAq’s commercialisation journey, led by Dr Michael Fielding at AUT Ventures, included $450,000 funding from KiwiNet in 2019 to develop the technology further, an amount which was matched by internal investment from AUT/AUT Ventures. KiwiNet’s commercialisation funding is provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), and AUT Ventures won a further $169,000 of funding from MBIE in 2020 as part of its COVID-19 Innovation Acceleration Funding. The funding was used to run a successful clinical study and to advance the technology for hospital applications such as COVID-19 treatment.

Useful links and background

Find out more about RespirAq

Institute of Biomedical Technologies

AUT Ventures

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