Imperial College London

Plug-and-play prostheses wins IGHI Student Challenges Competition


Five finalists entered the Dragon's Den to secure funding towards their global health innovation.

Artificial limbs that patients can fit and maintain themselves won both the top prize of £5,000 and an additional Audience Choice Award of £1,000 at this year’s Student Challenges Competition hosted by the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI). 

The competition, which is now in its sixth year and takes place during Imperial Enterprise Week, provides a platform for UK-based students to showcase their global health research ideas and secure funding to develop them to the next stage. 

Plug and play prosthesis

Fourth year Mechanical Engineering students at Imperial, Nathan Macabuag and Joshua Chidwick, claimed the top prize which will go towards their start-up company Mitt.  Their accessible, comfortable, plug-and-play prosthesis aims to help the estimated seven million people across the world suffering from limb loss.

Limb-loss is a truly global problem and in countries with high rural populations and large distances to travel before finding a hospital, high barriers to care exist. The result is that up to 90% of patients have no access to prostheses at all. Mitt’s aim is to tackle these barriers by building elegantly functional, affordable, upper limb prostheses that users can fit and maintain themselves. A Mitt prosthesis has a durable yet flexible and self-adjusting interface, negating the need for regular medical fitting and intervention.

A range of focused, easily interchangeable tools allow the device to be easily suited to the specific daily needs of the user and by using readily available technology to build a simple solution, Mitt are able to  produce a prosthetic device at 100 times reduced cost from current models.  

During the presentation, Nathan stated that 35% of people with upper limb loss would rather use no prosthesis at all than those that are currently available due to lack of comfort and high prices. The team have worked with quadruple amputee Alex Lewis as they developed Mitt, which has a flexible socket that automatically adapts to the user’s size, along with a selection of quickly interchangeable, highly functional prosthetic tools.

Nathan explained that 35% of people with upper limb loss would rather use no prosthesis at all than those that are currently available.
The £6000 gives us the funds to run our first large scale product pilot, in partnership with four of the UK’s largest limb loss charities. Nathan Macabuag Winner, IGHI Student Challenges 2017/18

“We are over the moon” said Nathan. “To win not just the judges prize but the audience choice as well is just ridiculous. We’re so happy. And excited! The £6000 gives us the funds to run our first large scale product pilot, in partnership with four of the UK’s largest limb loss charities. It’s the first big step to bringing comfy, functional and importantly – affordable – prosthetic limbs to the world. They are sorely needed. Thank you IGHI!”. 

Innovating the e-cigarette 

Imperial Engineering student Ben Walker walked away with the second prize of £2,500 for his smart, networked device called Level, which uses a data led approach to gradually help smokers reduce their nicotine dosage, helping them quit with no nicotine withdrawal. 

Level is a tiny device which attaches to any e-cigarette. After it is attached, it starts learning how the user vapes, building up a profile of their nicotine intake and after the first few weeks of use, it starts helping the user cut down very gradually.  Every time the user picks up the device, it can predict how much nicotine they need. When they vape, it lights up green when they've had 99% of what they need. This signals them to put it down, so they've had almost all the nicotine they need, but they're still on a quitting path.

Getting through as a finalist helps prove that a start-up is ready to move on to the next stage of development. Ben Walker, Level Runner-up, IGHI Student Challenges 2017/18

On receiving his prize, Ben said “The competition is an exciting way to get expert feedback on your product, and getting through as a finalist helps prove that a start-up is ready to move on to the next stage of development.  The prize money will go towards hardware and prototype development of our device and I would very much like to thank IGHI and Imperial for the opportunity to take part”.   

Runner up Ben with event chair Professor Guang-Zhong Yang. 

Other finalists covered a range of topics including Imperial PhD Chemistry students Pashiini Supramaniam, Zainab Ahmed, Mohit Devgan and Callum Hay, who presented their start-up QuickCount, a fast, low-cost device able to distinguish bacterial and viral infections using a finger prick of blood at the point of care.

Majico, an initiative which works with communities and entrepreneurs to build sustainable solar-driven water purification ecosystems was presented by PhD students from the University of Cambridge - Jeroen Verheyen, Serena Belluschi and Samer Kurdi, whilst Imperial Biology students Thomas Caganek, Kim Ngan Luu Hoang and Mingke Pan showcased their Debac spray, a cost-effective, simple and reliable method for detecting surgical site infections before symptoms arise, empowering patients regardless of social and economical background.

The Dragons

The finalists pitched their ideas to four expert judges – Dr Richard Smith, IGHI Adjunct Professor, Chairman of Patients Know Best, former Editor of the British Medical Journal and Chief Executive of the BMJ Publishing Group; Professor Margaret Dallman OBE - Associate Provost (Academic Partnerships) and Professor of Immunology at Imperial, Dr Will Cavendish, Director, Cities and Transformation at Arup, former Strategy Lead at Applied at DeepMind and former Director General of Innovation, Growth and Technology at the Department of Health and Daniel Dickens, Managing Director of the HELIX Centre within the Institute of Global Health Innovation.   

Deputy Director of IGHI and Chair of the Competition Professor Guang-Zhong Yang said “What a fantastic event!  It was great to see projects from various disciplines and universities and I would like to thank all five finalists for taking part and congratulations to the winners.  The competition allows students to turn theory they have learnt in the classroom into real world applications and businesses.  The feedback they receive from the experts is invaluable.  Every year, the entries get better and better and I am very much looking forward to hearing how the winning projects progress and how the prize money has helped them develop”.

View all the photos from the event on Flickr here

Find out more about the competition and how to enter here.


Jo Seed

Jo Seed
Institute of Global Health Innovation

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