Valerie Clark
Jun 1, 2012

Redesigned cooler reinvents tuberculosis treatment

Members of the CoolComply team in Addis Ababa deliver a device to be installed in the home of a TB patient.It started with a basic soft drink cooler, a need for easier management of tuberculosis and $150,000 in innovation support. 

A big challenge in managing tuberculosis is keeping the medicine cool, in addition to tracking and monitoring dose administration. These challenges can be life-threatening, especially in less-developed countries, where refrigerators and fancy cooling devices are rare; ice must be trucked in on a daily basis to keep medicines at controlled temperatures. A redesigned cooler with the ability to keep the medicine cool and record when medicine is dispensed is aiming to solve both these problems.  

The design of the cooler is simple and practical -- common characteristics of a scientifically sound experiment or innovation. It’s nothing more than a standard soft drink cooler but the team from MIT's Little Devices Lab equipped the cooler with the ability to sound an alert when the temperature inside the cooler becomes too high and transmit data wirelessly using a cellphone transmitter whenever the cooler is opened. 

The need for a cooler like this is easy to identify. Because of limited access to refrigerators, the cost of daily ice deliveries and the need for regular visits from health care workers, the number of patients who receive sufficient treatment for tuberculosis in developing nations is limited. The cooler -- aka CoolComply -- has promising potential to eliminate all these obstacles and ultimately, increase the number of patients who can receive appropriate health care. In other words, this amped up cooler could have a profound effect on the success of tuberculosis treatment. 

Engineers at the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology in Ethiopia conduct tests on a CoolComply prototype. Affordable and simple mobile health solutions may be exactly what the world needs to deliver modern medicine to third-world countries. Innovation research and education programs are largely responsible for funding the development and testing of health care solutions like the CoolComply. Two primary funding sources for the CoolComply include the Vodaphone Americans Foundation Wireless Innovation Project and the Harvard Catalyst (the Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center). 

Little Devices is one of the neatest groups we’ve come across here at Patexia lately because of their DIY approach to the design, invention, and policies regarding global needs in health technology. Little Deivces is was founded by MIT researchers, and belongs to the Innovations in International Health Network -- a group of researchers, users and health practitioners working on global health technology initiatives. The Innovations in International Health Network doesn’t just study the problem or create awareness about the medical needs in resource-poor areas, they “aim to accelerate the development of global health technologies.” They actively support the efforts of groups like Little Devices who bring real solutions that have an immediate impact on the problem.

Despite how simple the repurposed cooler design may be, it has been proven effective in the US and Ethiopia. The goal is to get a local for-profit company on board to manufacture the coolers for the local community in Ethiopia, thereby supporting a local business in addition to cost-effective health care solutions.  After all, what good is a new invention if the consumer cannot afford or access the technology?