James Roberts: Life-saving solutions for neonatal care

Inspired by the plight of refugees, James Roberts created a low-cost incubator for babies born prematurely.

Babies born prematurely in war-torn or disaster stricken areas like Syria have very little chance for survival because of the lack of adequate medical equipment, particularly incubators. This inspired Loughborough University graduate James Roberts to create a low-cost solution to neonatal care, called MOM.

“I had a lot of opposition, actually. A lot of people said it just can’t be done,” says Roberts. “The incubator is something that hadn’t been innovated in nearly 100 years.”

Proving his naysayers wrong, Roberts invented MOM, a flat-packed, easily transportable incubator for babies born prematurely in refugee camps. It’s designed to function on as little power as possible and is even able to run off a car battery for over 24 hours.

MOM is made with a sheet of plastic that contains transparent inflatable panels. The panels are manually blown up and are then heated by a ceramic element that wraps around the interior of the incubator, providing the much-needed temperature regulation that underweight babies need to survive.

The system can be sterilised and stored away when not in use and the parts are easily replaceable. It is, however, better suited to care for babies with low-care needs as opposed to babies who are born before seven months of the gestation period.

Roberts was awarded the coveted James Dyson Award for his invention, the success of which he attributes to the team around him.

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to build a good team around you, it’s all about the people around you who push you forward,” he adds.

Roberts hopes to manufacture enough incubators to begin distribution to refugee camps by 2017.