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Reducing the cost of breathing

25 August 2023

A $250 prototype to help with one of New Zealand's most prominent respiratory illnesses was developed by Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) researchers.


UC researchers are changing the game for chronic and respiratory illnesses. From front left, Jaimey Clifton, Ella Guy, Trudy Calje-Van Der Klei, Mia Uluilelata, Samuel Jackson, Samrath Sood, and Jordan Hill.

Sleep apnoea, often associated with snoring, is a dangerous health condition where a person will unknowingly stop and start breathing in their sleep. It can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and early death. The severe fatigue caused by sleep apnoea also means someone may fall asleep while at work or driving. 

Impacting over 100,000 Kiwis, the current solution is a $1500-2500 wearable sleeping device strapped over a person's mouth, providing them a continuous supply of oxygenated air; known as a CPAP – Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.

<img src="" alt="SDG 10" style="    " class="img-responsive additional-image"> Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10 - Reduced Inequalities

The high price of a CPAP makes it inaccessible for those without medical insurance or a full subsidy. A fourth-year engineering project has produced a prototype CPAP with the capabilities of a top end CPAP device priced at $2500 for a tenth of the cost - $247 to be exact. 

“Our goal with this project is to help reduce health inequalities. The final part of our project is creating an open-source file alongside a phone app for Bluetooth control, allowing anyone to recreate and run the device from their phone,” says the research team.

“We tested all our products against the current top of the line CPAP, which uses the very best hardware – which is what you would expect, but we wanted to see if much lower-cost products could produce the same or better results.

“We stripped the machine back to the bare minimum, and found that we could achieve the same, and at times, better results. Current CPAP devices last around five years, ours is built with the same expectation.  

“Our hope is that a commercial business would mass-produce these, ideally reducing the cost to purchase the device to below $50-150.”

The research team is motivated by the growing need for affordable healthcare alternatives. “We want to give back to our communities and affordable healthcare is a local and global issue. With Māori and Pacific peoples twice as likely to have sleep apnoea a large percentage of our population is disproportionately impacted by the costs of healthcare.”

The team is made up of fourth year Mechanical Engineering students Jordan Hill and Mia Uluilelata, and Mechatronics students, Samuel Jackson and Samrath Sood; they are supervised by Distinguished Professor Geoff Chase, and PhD students Ella Guy and Jaimey Clifton.

PhD student’s Ella Guy and Jaimey Clifton are also part of a wider team of researchers creating a device and software to provide better health outcomes for those with acute and chronic respiratory illnesses. 

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