Duke-NUS Health Innovator Programme: Students invent device to prevent vaginal tears during childbirth
The team of students that won the top prize for their invention that helps prevent vaginal tears during childbirth receive a check for S$20,000

Team FemTech, who won top prize for their new device that prevents vaginal tears, receive their prize from Duke-NUS Dean Professor Thomas Coffman (left) and course lead Assistant Professor Rena Dharmawan (second from right)

A team of students from the Duke-NUS’ Health Innovator Programme has won S$20,000 to develop a device that prevents vaginal tears during childbirth.

They were one of three teams participating in the first edition of the nine-month Duke-NUS Health Innovator Programme, launched in September 2022. The programme aims to instill an innovation-driven mindset in students so they will continue to improve clinical practice even after they graduate. All three teams focused on addressing issues in the field of women’s health.

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The winning team invented a bracket-like tool that is positioned between the vagina and anus, areas which are subjected to intense pressure when the baby’s head passes through the vaginal opening during birth. Nine in ten women experience vaginal tears during natural childbirth, with three in ten requiring stitches, an experience that can be physically and mentally traumatic.

The device aims to redirect pressure away from these anatomical structures to lower the rates of vaginal tears, protecting mothers from trauma.

KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, a part of Duke-NUS academic medicine partner SingHealth, was the main clinical partner for the programme this year while business partners Hannah Life Technologies, HiCura Medical and Vivo Surgical came on board to mentor the students. 

In each team, a third-year Duke-NUS medical student worked with peers from the National University of Singapore’s engineering and business programmes.

The programme culminated in a ‘shark tank’-style event on 4 April, where students pitched their prototypes and fielded questions from a panel of judges comprising academics, research scientists and industry leaders.

“My most memorable experience is going down to the clinics and seeing first-hand what happens there. Coming up with an idea to mitigate the problem makes me feel that I can make an impact in the healthcare sector.

“I am excited that our project could result in a device that can help mothers during childbirth,” said Mr Low Feng Yi, a third-year medical student at Duke-NUS, who’s part of the winning team.

Low added that the team will be using the prize money to refine their prototype. He hopes clinical trials can be conducted next year.

“What I liked about the winning project was that it involved a real problem and took a very practical approach to finding a solution. It was a simple idea but they’re often the best.

“I was really impressed with all the teams—these are students who started with a blank slate. They always had the patient in mind, focused on clinical needs, and that’s what innovation is all about,” said Dr Christopher Laing, who was one of the judges and formerly Vice-Dean for the School’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Echoing his sentiments, Assistant Dean for Innovation Education and Ecosystem Development Assistant Professor Rena Dharmawan, who conceptualised the programme, said: “You have no idea how proud we are of the participants.”

“Just nine months ago, they joined us in this journey with an open mind. They went through numerous highs and lows as a team. They pushed themselves in many ways and tried things they probably never had the chance to, outside their fields and industries.”

Asst Prof Rena Dharmawan

The other two teams also addressed key needs during a woman’s journey to become a mother. One team developed a handheld ultrasound device for mothers to monitor foetal wellbeing from the comfort of their homes; the other designed an enhanced embryo transfer catheter to boost the success rates of in vitro fertilisation. 

The inaugural cohort of Duke-NUS Health Innovator Programme celebrate the end of their nine-month journey with programme lead, Rena Dharmawan and Duke-NUS Dean Thomas Coffman

The inaugural cohort of Duke-NUS Health Innovator Programme celebrate the end of their nine-month journey with programme lead, Rena Dharmawan and Duke-NUS Dean Thomas Coffman

To date, two provisional patents have been filed for the cohort’s projects.

“The programme illustrates the essence of medical innovation—that is to bring together teams of people from different backgrounds and different perspectives to focus on a problem. It’s a great proof-of-concept for how we ought to be teaching and nurturing innovation on our campus.”

Duke-NUS Dean Prof Thomas Coffman


“We could use this as a model for how we expand and grow medical innovation to make discoveries and improve patients’ lives,” added Dean Coffman.

All three teams will be pursuing full patent applications over the next year.

Next year, the Health Innovator Programme will double its student intake and students will be asked to address clinical needs in the areas of primary health and cancer care.  

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