Mechatronics Engineering master’s student Mr Pragesh Govender was a winner in the MediVentors Lion’s Den student competition.
Govender got the People’s Choice MedTech Award for a medical device concept he developed as part of the Innovation Skills Challenge, and also attained distinctions in the MediVentors Integrated Skills Development Programme (ISDP).
MediVentors is a collaborative effort involving four universities and industry partners with the aim being to drive medical device innovation in South Africa by training students to develop successful innovations.
Led by the University of Cape Town (UCT), the consortium includes UKZN, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and the National Technologies Implementation Platform (NTIP), also known as the Production Technologies Association of South Africa.
Prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak, the ViroVent Innovation Skills Challenge was initiated by the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (merSETA) together with other organisations to meet real world medical industrialisation demands and develop home-grown skills and medical technologies.
To produce optimally-trained medical technology engineers, the MediVentors consortium developed an ISDP that focused on holistic learning to link medical technology projects to real life market needs. It developed three e-learning courses as an extension of current study material to upskill students: a Med Tech Essentials course to prepare for regulatory and legal challenges, a Systems Engineering and Product Lifecycle Management course that concerned product lifecycle stages, and the tooling and industrialisation course to prepare students for high volume production.
The MediVentors Lion’s Den student competition involved teams from UKZN, UCT, CPUT and WITs developing innovations and creating industry links.
The programme set out to train more than 30 students from the four universities for medical device industrialisation through an ISDP, the e-learning curricula, and training-by-doing to help students industrialise medical devices to advance South Africa’s MedTech sector.
Govender – one of five Engineering students on the UKZN team, led by Professor Riaan Stopforth – based his entry on his master’s research that involved developing an Internet of Things (IoT)-based real time healthcare Monitoring System with predictive analytics that uses machine learning and fuzzy expert systems to improve diagnostics.
Govender chose to do his undergraduate studies at UKZN in Chemical Engineering because of the international recognition accorded to the University’s Engineering programmes, and the success of its Engineering alumni in various fields. With an aptitude for systems thinking and innovation across disciplines, he describes himself as a natural problem solver and critical thinker.
Inspired by the innovations he saw coming out of UKZN’s Mechatronics Engineering discipline and his own interest in complex systems, Govender applied to do his master’s degree in this field with the support of Stopforth, despite not having a Mechanical Engineering or Electronic Engineering background.
Juggling the MediVentors courses with his research commitments, Govender designed a wearable, wireless body access network (WBAN) consisting of various sensors which gathered patient physiological data and transmitted it via Bluetooth to a mobile application for storage and processing within an SQLite database before eventual transmission to a cloud via Wi-Fi. After transmission to the cloud, this data could be accessed by doctors via the web or a mobile application.
In addition, during an emergency, the real-time data could automatically alert the patient’s doctor of the emergency and advise on the patient’s location so the doctor could dispatch ambulance services. The machine learning and fuzzy logic models developed allowed for the vitals obtained from the WBAN to be used to determine the patient’s likelihood of a stroke, general health status and the effect of environmental conditions on patient health without a medical doctor being physically present.
A highlight of the MediVentors event for Govender was the Medical Device Sector essentials course and the networking with key role players in medical device development and industrialisation. He said his research and design allowed for the practical application of the skills he acquired from the courses. He also gained an appreciation for the work required to transform research into a usable form for end-users.
‘Although research is important, I realised that what is more important is ensuring that it is geared towards the users’ need,’ said Govender. ‘A complex solution can be useless if it answers the wrong question, while a simple solution can solve complex problems.’
Now a process engineer in the manufacturing sector, Govender is interested in the incorporation of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies into the manufacturing and biomedical sectors, and the use of business intelligence techniques to help streamline and improve systems. He has developed his versatility as an engineer, and is interested in technology, modelling, analytics and innovation, and particularly in integrating engineering with biological systems to advance healthcare.
Words: Christine Cuénod