Embrace Infant WarmerFour students enrolled in Stanford University’s Design for Extreme Affordability course developed an innovative new incubator that mothers in remote villages around the world are using to save the lives of their babies born too soon or too small to maintain healthy body temperature. Many of these babies are born at home to parents who cannot afford hospital-based incubators or the time - often weeks - away from home to tend their incubator-bound babies. Today, thousands of those infants are surviving and thriving, thanks to the Embrace Infant Warmer, designed, developed and distributed globally by the team of students who became medical entrepreneurs.

None of the students - Jane Chen, Linus Liang, Naganand Murty, and Rahul Panicker - were parents when the course started. They knew almost nothing about tending to babies. Individually, they were studying electrical engineering, computer science, and business. Once the class was over, the students just didn’t have the heart to abandon the project.

The team learned that 20 million babies are born prematurely or at low birth weight each year, that one million of them die the day they’re born, and that hypothermia is the leading cause of death in these babies born with too little fat to maintain a healthy body temperature. According to Chen, “room temperature feels like freezing cold water to them.”

Brainstorming sessions in a tree led to research trips to Nepal and India. The insights they discovered in the field led to design perfection, happy parents, and healthy babies. The journey transformed their way of thinking, from dedicated students to medical device developers and international distribution experts.

Their original Embrace Infant Warmer can be used anywhere and there is an electrical supply to warm it. A newer design uses hot water. Either model can be used at home, is portable, lightweight, and sells for only a tiny fraction of the cost of traditional hospital incubators that can cost $20,000 or more.

The ABC News TV show, 20/20, featured the Embrace Infant Warmer in 2010 and told of Nisha, a baby girl born in Bangalore weighing just five pounds. Nisha is thought to be the first life saved by the Embrace Infant Warmer and the team of four dedicated students with too much heart to walk away from a class project that had life-saving potential.

Today, more than 3,000 babies have used the Embrace Infant Warmer. The team is working with nonprofit organizations in nine countries and negotiating a global distribution partnership with GE Healthcare. And one of them is now a parent, too.

Source: Kelley, Tom and David Kelley. "A Solution for Poor Mothers, When Expensive Hospital Incubators Won't Do." Slate. Web. 16 Nov 2013.