Health IT

Startup embeds feeding and breathing tubes with sensors to cut intubation complications

Sensors and medicine just go together. Already we’ve seen sensors embedded into medical technology to help detect breast cancer, potential concussions and early signs of foot ulcers, just to name a few.

Now a Cleveland-area startup is applying pressure sensors to breathing and feeding tubes to prevent and detect intubation complications.

“Our goal is really to enhance monitoring of people who require ventilation support or feeding tubes, especially over the long term,” said James Reynolds, co-founder of Miach Medical.

Complications with feeding tubes are generally not common, but when they do occur, they are often caused by improperly positioned tubes — most often accidental placement in the respiratory tract rather than the GI tract (PDF).


Placing a feeding tube requires two X-rays, explained Reynolds, who’s a faculty member at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine’s department of anesthesiology. The first X-ray confirms that the tube is in the esophagus rather than the trachea, and the second checks how far it’s been inserted into the stomach or small intestine.

Embedding an array of pressure sensors in the tube could eliminate the need for X-rays in determining proper placement of the tube, as the esophagus exerts continuous pressure while there are only intermittent pressure points in the throat. Those sensors in the tube would communicate wirelessly to a central server and trigger an alarm or page to a caregiver when it moved or was not placed correctly.

Miach sees an eventual home for the device in hospitals. For now, the team is working on a third-generation prototype as they explore biocompatible and affordable sensing materials. Reynolds said they’re also looking for funding. The startup won a $25,000 grant from the Lorain County Community College’s Innovation Fund earlier this year and $1,500 in prize money from the student business competition at the JumpStart Inc. Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur Expo last month.

Miach’s first prototype emerged from a student design program at CWRU, and Reynolds and fellow anesthesiologist Jim Rowbottom brought the company to life in September of 2011. Rounding out the team is Cleveland Clinic trauma surgeon Jeff Ustin, project manager Cullen Dolan and interim CEO Russell Donda, an entrepreneur-in-residence at BioEnterprise.

Other small companies are innovating to improve intubation, but none in quite the same way. Fellow Ohio company Synchro Medical Innovations is targeting the same market with its feeding tubes that are guided by external magnets, but doesn’t seem to have the monitoring capability of Miach’s device. Indiana-based SonarMed uses sound echoes to monitor ventilator breathing tubes, but it’s focused on obstructions rather than placement.

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