The mOm incubator is used for the first time to help sustain a premature baby at St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey. Image courtesy of: St Peters NICU

Accessible neonatal incubator designed by Loughborough graduate achieves first clinical use

A new, neonatal incubator designed by Loughborough graduate James Roberts saw its first ever clinical use in a UK hospital earlier this month.

The mOm incubator

One in 10 babies born around the world are premature, and one million of them die every year. Three-quarters of these deaths are easily preventable through access to simple intervention like thermoregulation, or consistent warmth. However, only a small minority of premature babies have access to conventional incubators.

This is what inspired James – for his 2014 degree show project – to create the mOm Incubator, an alternative to conventional incubators that is cost effective, compact, and easy to maintain. mOm not only provides a life-saving solution in challenging, low/middle income settings, but a more flexible option for neonatal care in the UK and the developed world.

Since 2014 the device has received financial backing from James Dyson – winning the International James Dyson Award – and in 2016 Holly Branson, Virgin Group’s Chief Purpose and Vision Officer, invested in mOm. The Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub has also provided support.

Earlier this month James and his team celebrated the first ever clinical application of their incubator, when it was used to help sustain a premature baby at St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey.

Speaking about achieving this milestone, James said: “Sustaining a child's life in our incubator for the first time has been a humbling experience and a monumental step in transforming this dream into a practical reality.

“It is unacceptable that one million premature babies die each year, when most of these deaths can be easily prevented. An idea that was once scribbled down on paper now has the potential to impact many lives globally.”

Peter Reynolds, Consultant Neonatologist at St Peter’s Hospital Chertsey stated: “I am delighted that we have successfully recruited the first few babies into the mOm incubator clinical trial at St. Peter's Hospital. I am very grateful to their parents who agreed to their participation. Keeping babies warm is a fundamental part of good neonatal care and we are pleased to be leading this evaluation of the new mOm incubator.”

Holly Branson, Chief Purpose and Vision Officer at Virgin, made mOm Incubators her first ever impact investment in 2016. She said: “From the first moment I met the incredible, innovative team at mOm Incubators in 2016, I knew this was a unique, game-changing, purpose-led company that we should invest in and help grow.

“As a family, and a brand, we are passionate about backing individuals who are using intelligence, creativity, expertise, and sector skills to make a positive impact in the world through growing successful, purposeful businesses. James and the team at mOm are doing just that and much, much more. I’m incredibly proud of all they have achieved and don’t mind saying that the photos of ‘first baby’ being protected in a mOm Incubator made me more than a little emotional.

“As the mum of premature children, I know how critical those days in the incubator are. The mOm Incubator will make a positive impact to newborn children and society across the world by accelerating access to care and as my first ‘official’ impact investment, over five years ago, mOm Incubators will always hold a special place in my heart.”

James graduated from Loughborough’s School of Design and Creative Artsin 2014. Speaking about his success Professor Cees de Bont, Dean of the School, said: “We are delighted to see James and the mOm incubator hit such an important milestone. At the time of his degree show it was clear he had developed something that one day would save lives. We are incredibly proud of James and wish him continued success for the future.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 21/249

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.