Inventor of incubator wins Princess Royal Silver Medal

The mOm incubator was developed with funding from Innovate UK and has featured in the UK media covering the conflict.

James Roberts has been presented with the Princess Royal Silver Medal, one of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s most prestigious individual awards.

He is the inventor of a new neonatal incubator designed, developed and manufactured in Britain that has helped babies thrive in NHS hospitals and across war-torn Ukraine.

The mOm incubator was developed with funding from Innovate UK and has featured in the UK media covering the conflict.

Outstanding contribution to UK engineering

Roberts was presented with the award at the Academy Awards Dinner in London on Thursday 13 July by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, who is a Royal Fellow of the Academy.

The Princess Royal Silver Medal celebrates an outstanding personal contribution made to UK engineering by an early to mid-career engineer resulting in market exploitation.

Invaluable in cold places

A total of 75 incubators have so far been sent to Ukraine, where they are being used to keep babies warm in hospitals and underground bomb shelters transformed into make-shift neonatal wards.

For every 1°C a child loses when they are premature, their chance of mortality increases by 28%, making these incubators invaluable in cold and draughty places.

The company estimates that between 1,500 and 2,000 babies have been positively impacted by its incubators. Ukraine’s Ministry of Health has asked for another 100 and is actively looking for funders to help meet the need.

Preventable with appropriate interventions

One in 10 babies born around the world is premature, and every 40 seconds one of those babies dies.

While three-quarters of these deaths are preventable with appropriate interventions, including contact with consistent warmth, many parents and clinicians have no access to incubators, which tend to be expensive and hard to maintain.

In his final year at Loughborough University studying product design, Roberts set out to help premature babies by designing a more compact, simple and cost-effective alternative to conventional incubators to provide flexibility to caring for newborns.

A more flexible option

The mOm Essential Incubator is built to work in challenging environments and provides a stable heated environment even if access to electricity is unreliable thanks to a built-in battery. Its clever inflatable design and lighter weight of 20 kilograms make this incubator a more flexible option for neonatal care in the UK.

It is being used in a series of pilots across four NHS hospitals to ease the need for short-term admission to special care and to help maintain the core temperature of babies being moved around hospital sites.

The system allows parents to stay closer to their baby and gives more flexibility in how babies are cared for across the hospital. The mOm Essential Incubator can also be used in emerging economies and war zones.

Won multiple awards

Roberts’ prototype caught the attention of the James Dyson Foundation, which in 2014 awarded him the global James Dyson Award for innovation.

Since then, mOm Incubators has been granted regulatory approval for the mOm Essential Incubator and Roberts has won multiple awards.

While the company considers incubators to be at the heart of neonatal intensive care unit, it intends to add products to its incubator and to supply them globally.

A fantastic achievement

Neil MacLachlan MBE FRCOG, a retired consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology said:

Feedback from Ukrainian clinicians in the front line of perinatal care is excellent and James Roberts and his team have worked tirelessly to try and meet the demand.

To create a more affordable neonatal incubator that can potentially help so many premature babies survive is a fantastic achievement.

In the company of inspiring people

James Roberts said:

I was taken aback but thrilled to win The Princess Royal Silver Medal. Demis Hassabis, CEO and Cofounder of DeepMind won a Silver Medal in 2016 and to be in his company as a recipient, as well as so many other inspiring people, is strange but amazing.

I’m hugely grateful for this award and humbled by it too.

Supporting innovation

Richard Hebdon, Director for Health and Life Sciences at Innovate UK said:

Congratulations to James and his team on this prestigious award.

Innovate UK is pleased and proud to have supported mOm Incubators in their development of the mOm Essential Incubator.

There is a great need for innovation in paediatric medical devices and we would encourage all innovators and businesses in this area to consider Innovate UK funding and support for their innovations, and help ensure that clinicians have the tools they need to treat and care for the youngest and often most vulnerable patients.

Top image:  James Roberts Princess Royal Silver Medallist. Credit: Rob Lacey

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