Aum, a $1 device that gives back voice to throat cancer | Milaap

Aum, a $1 device that gives back voice to throat cancer patients

The first time he read the chapters on Oncology, medical student Vishal Rao decided right then – this is my destiny and future. “These chapters talked to me. It was like meeting an old friend and having a conversation. I didn't want to do anything else,” he says. 

He is today a head and neck oncologist in Bangalore who created a $1 device that can help his patients breathe, speak and eat after oral cancer. The economically priced device can serve 100-200 people in Karnataka alone. The device gives back to patients the ability to speak, giving them back peace and dignity after cancer. 

The simple, elegant device Aum

It began with the need to help a patient

For Dr Vishal Rao, it started when one of his patients died because he did not know how to use the expensive tracheoctomy tube inserted into his throat. The doctor realised it was not really the patient's fault. “Even trained nurses and attendants don't know how to correctly use it. This is because it is a sophisticated machine designed in a far away lab in the U.S.,” he says. 

Technological innovation, he says, is driven by the size of the market. “No one is as interested in my patient's problems as much as me. I had a design to solve my daily problems,” he says. What this particular patient needed was something simple and easy to use. 

“It was so clear to me that a simpler machine could have saved him. I needed two tubes that would help breathing and eating. I went back and studied different models to come up with one that would work for me,” Dr Vishal says.   

Dabbling with product design

He shared his idea with his friend, Shashank Mahes, who was very encouraging. “He heard me out and asked me to show it to him,” Vishal recalls. The process began with drawing the product. Once the dimensions were fixed Shashank, a materials expert, advised on the materials needed for the prototype. 

Shashank became a co-inventor and helped create prototypes that could be tried out for efficacy. The product, a voice prosthesis was named 'Aum' and Vishal and Shashank secured a patent for it. Their product is acknowledged in the helathcare industry as an innovation in voice prosthetics. 

The next step, they say, is producing it in bulk so it can be sold at affordable rates for all. “God didn't charge us anything for our voice, so I don't think it is right to make profits out of the device,” Vishal explains.  

A vision beyond innovation

Oral cancer is one of the most common cancers in India, with 5 people succumbing to it every hour. Often, the treatment for this cancer requires removal of the larynx or the voice box in the throat. 

Communication is a basic tenet of human life. You can help this good doctor take his vision of providing throat cancer patients dignity through speech. 

Donate now to help his efforts.