Anjelica Gonzalez Takes Award in Saving Lives at Birth Competition


Presenting for her innovation, PremieBreathe, Prof. Anjelica Gonzalez was named runner-up at the 2017 Saving Lives at Birth DevelopmentXChange Competition. 

Gonzalez, who teaches Biotechnology and the Developing World, serves as Principal Investigator for PremieBreathe, which has developed a low-cost infant respirator that delivers warmed, humidified, and oxygenated air to reduce airway irritation and keep infants breathing normally. It has been in the works since 2012, when the design for it originated in Gonzalez’s lab. Recently, the project team has made significant progress towards getting the device in resource-poor hospitals in Ethiopia, and is looking to expand its impact. 

Sponsored by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations, the Saving Lives at Birth Partnership held the event last month in Washington D.C. at the Ronald Reagan and International Trade Center in Washington D.C. Having received a grant from USAID, PremieBreathe was invited to attend, and Gonzalez was also among those invited to present a pitch to investors on behalf of PremieBreathe.

Although she’s used to speaking in front of audiences, the experience was a new one for Gonzalez. 

“It’s very different from what I do as a teacher and a seminar speaker, where I’m saying ‘Look at the science and look at the data,’” she said. “This is more like storytelling, trying to get investors excited about the commercialization and the potential for the product.”

As part of the competition, she was paired up with a pitching coach, Permjot Valia, who advised her to personalize the presentation. The idea, he told her, is that investors already trust that the science is sound – that’s why it’s being presented to them. They want to know if it’s marketable. 

“You don’t want to say ‘Millions of babies die every year due to respiratory failure,’” she said. “You want to say ‘I’m a mother, and when my babies were born, I knew they would have the best healthcare available because they were in a high resource setting.’” 

That is, put it in such a way that the investors can visualize the impact of the device and empathize with those who need it. Gonzalez, who describes herself as an introvert, said it was an entirely foreign experience.

“I’ve never presented  research in that way - I would never talk about myself,” she said. “It’s always the subjects or the cells, something of a significant sample size.” 

In any case, it worked. Besides being named runner-up, PremieBreathe also received inquiries from major potential investors about next steps for the product and possible partnerships.

The PremieBreathe project started with a collaboration request from Yale’s Global Health Leadership Institute (GHLI) between Engineering (Gonzalez and Prof. Mark Saltzman in biomedical engineering, and Dr. Joseph Zinter at the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design) and the Pediatrics department at the Yale School of Medicine (Dr. Lei Chen and Dr. Linda D. Arnold). Gonzalez and Chen decided to focus on neonatal respiratory support in the clinical settings of Rwanda and Ethiopia. The Gonzalez lab undertook the task of engineering, design, and testing; Chen advised on clinical specifications. Also working on the project is a team of students and former students, led by Biomedical Engineering undergraduate Katy Chan, ‘15.