Ronja Müller-Bruhn, Founder & CEO, STIMIT AG
To breathe is to live. We all breathe, all the time, as long as we live. The most important muscle for breathing is the diaphragm i.e., the flat sheetlike muscle at the base of our lungs. It is our breathing pump. Our brain permanently signals the diaphragm via the phrenic nerve – action potentials activate the diaphragm. Then, the diaphragm initiates breathing by contracting to create a suction effect in our lungs to bring in air. Because breathing is a core body function, we need to preserve functional breathing. So, let’s not take our breathing for granted.
The need to preserve breathing function applies to patients in critical care especially, we encounter perhaps the biggest challenge to preserve breathing function along the journey of mechanically ventilated patients. In traditional critical care when mechanical ventilation comes in, patients’ natural breathing is suppressed and the diaphragm deteriorates by up to 50% in the first few days of mechanical ventilation. With time, critical care patients become more and more dependent on mechanical ventilation and they struggle to breathe naturally on their own.
‘Mrs. Ronja Müller-Bruhn’ presents a potential breakthrough approach being designed to preserve the diaphragm in critical care. Coming from Zurich, Switzerland, she’s well educated and well experienced in general healthcare, business administration, innovation and entrepreneurship. She’s established STIMIT in Nidau, Switzerland, to develop an intelligent and natural means to activate the diaphragm with the help of technology in a completely non-invasive way. It is a low-risk and simple approach and she expects powerful results. She believes the future critical care patient will breathe more and more naturally while destructive pressures from mechanical ventilators will be minimized or eliminated.
Tracing Mrs. Ronja’s Professional Journey
Being just five years old, Mrs. Ronja envisioned becoming an engineer and inventor. As a young child, she was inspired by her father and uncle. At school, she loved maths and physics and sports. As she grew older, she developed an interest in healthcare and technology. “I discovered the medtech area as one of the most fascinating areas of all with great potential for innovation at the interface between living body and technology,” she says.
Mrs. Ronja sought education and training in healthcare. She worked with medical technology for a long time, in innovative roles. She also engaged medtech marketing and business administration. Here, she made a pivotal discovery: She that complex multi-stakeholder medtech business environment can sometimes be addressed with simple and smart solutions. She learned that innovation in all it’s complexity is only as good as the clinical need it solves.
Mrs. Ronja’s husband recognized the strong clinical need for diaphragm stimulation, a few years ago. Being motivated to find an innovative and feasible answer, she immersed herself into developing a practical technology and value adding business model. “Ventilated patients in critical care are suffering. As I searched into this topic, I saw pieces of the puzzle coming together. I felt a strong sense of purpose. This was a moment of truth. And, founding a company was the most natural next step,” she recounts.
From the beginning of the company, Mrs. Ronja has tried to solve needs honestly and genuinely. Clinicians easily valued their concept. In the initial stages, the company along with her team of well-experienced experts performed physiological feasibility tests, developed prototypes, secured patents, developed a clinical strategy, developed a unique business model and thus, created a strong company.
STIMIT Mission: Empower Patients to Breathe in Critical Care
STIMIT is the first company to bring a non-invasive means to activate the diaphragm with unique stimulation patterns to the critical care context. Thus, they are creating a new chapter in the future of critical care.
“Our team has more than 80 years of professional experience in medtech and critical care medicine. We believe firmly that critical care is ready to introduce new therapies. Our task is to offer innovative solutions to critical care medicine. Our strengths are strong user focus, agility, patent protection, pioneering clinical data and international partnerships – and we work hard towards the next milestones,” Mrs. Ronja says. Although STIMIT’s solutions are still in their development stage and need to be approved with time, let’s explore the innovation.
“Different courses of diseases may require patients to avail artificial respiration. The novel coronavirus is just one of them. When patients aren’t able to breathe sufficiently on their own, mechanical ventilation can save their lives. But after just a few days of ventilation, there is a risk of the respiratory muscles and the diaphragm weakening. For patients to be able to breathe on their own, we must nurture the most important respiratory muscle i.e., the diaphragm,” Mrs. Ronja says.
This is where STIMIT comes into play. STIMIT is to support patients by stimulating the diaphragm through non-invasive technology. By stimulating the diaphragm, this solution re-establishes the brain’s ‘action potential’ to engage the diaphragm naturally, as this function is suppressed in mechanically ventilated patients.
The Journey towards a Better Future
Mrs. Ronja certainly encountered many challenges, but they have proven to be learning experiences. In the beginning she had to structure a complex variety of opportunities and visionary perspectives towards a simple and feasible step-by-step pathway – which is the nature of an innovative newfield. She found great entrepreneurs – and learned to select the right people by her side. In order to finance the MedTech endeavor, the team evaluated each market opportunity thoroughly: beyond the pure clinical need they analysed country-specific regulations, reimbursement situations, market segments, user workflows to form a viable solution. A solution that brings value, which multiple stakeholders recognize.
There were times when her project seemed undoable – but when she continued step by step and the team finally did it, the solved challenge translated into unique value for STIMIT.
“I realized that I had to grow, expand horizons and grow our company’s vision. All of us pushed each other out of our comfort zones. I allowed others to grow and to contribute in their own way. For now, my success is when the STIMIT therapy successfully helps patients. Everything else will follow naturally from there,” she concludes passionately.