More than 1.5 million Americans use supplemental oxygen for a range of medical conditions. Supplemental oxygen can help people feel better and be more active so that they can live fuller lives. Yet some patients have found that portable oxygen creates challenges with daily activities, exercise, socialization, work, and travel. When asked, patients consistently express a desire for a lighter, more portable oxygen supply; for a supply that lasts longer; and for flow rates that would supply the necessary amounts of oxygen for their needs.

Through the Air You Wear Challenge, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), aimed to broadly stimulate the research and development of processes and technologies designed to improve the accessibility, efficacy, and usability of supplemental oxygen to help people who rely on it.

The Air You Wear Challenge had two phases, one 11-week phase that focused on the concepts and feasibility of solutions (Phase 1) and a second, more extended phase when teams developed working prototypes of their solutions (Phase 2). When Phase 1 ended in December 2021, the NHLBI selected eight finalists to compete in Phase 2 and encouraged them to use their $50,000 prizes to advance their innovations. During this second phase, the NHLBI helped finalists engage with subject matter experts from NIH, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). They also participated in webinars about NHLBI Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs and commercialization programs, entrepreneurial financing, regulatory pathways from FDA Digital Health Center of Excellence, CMS reimbursement, and the NHLBI Catalyze Program.

In February 2023, the NHLBI named three winning teams and one honorable mention. Watch these teams describe how the challenge helped them advance their innovations, bringing them closer to a time when they might help supplemental oxygen users live fuller lives.

First Prize: AutO2: Automating Oxygen Dosing in Real Time

Team: Lisa Lancaster, M.D., and team

Team Members: Lisa Lancaster, M.D. (lead); George Wilson, M.S.; M.L.I., P.M.P.; Chris Thompson, B.E.; and Masood Machingal, Ph.D.

AutO2 provides automated oxygen monitoring and dosing in real time, allowing patients wearing oxygen therapy equipment to be free of having to constantly adjust the oxygen flow rates as their activity levels change. The team that developed this solution brought together expertise in interstitial lung disease, technology development, technology transfer and commercialization, and complex system design for digital health development.

Second Prize: MaxxO™ and MaxxO-Go™ System – Breathe Easy Anywhere Team: HealOMed Team

Team Members: Edward Lin, D.O. (lead); Bass Lin, M.S.M.E.; Lynx Huang, B.A.; and Ben Wu., M.I.D.

MaxxO ™ is a novel nasal cannula system that doubles the oxygen concentration and maximizes oxygenation by preferentially delivering all available oxygen to the patient. It can be used with the MaxxO-Go rolling cart, which improves accessibility and portability of patients’ oxygen therapy. The team is comprised of a physician, engineers, a project manager, and quality assurance/quality control and user interface professionals. 

Third Prize: Portable Oxygen Concentrator with Higher Flows and Remote Monitoring

Team: Advanced Interactive Response Systems (AIRS)

Team Members: Valerie Obenchain, R.R.T., B.S. (lead), Michigan Tech University Team 59; Diana Kasza, C.F.O.; Adrienne Harris, M.Eng.; Arieh Halpern, B.S.; Gregory Last, M.B.S., M.S.E.; Gene Parunak, B.S.M.E; Ray Stanford, B.S.; and Gerald Roston, Ph.D.

The Portable Oxygen Concentrator with Higher Flows and Remote Monitoring can help ensure oxygen users are receiving the correct amount of oxygen by remote monitoring the user’s pulse oximetry and oxygen supply. This system allows for data transparency by sharing key data between patients and their providers, who can then make recommendations, as needed. Existing insurance codes for the remote monitoring features are provided with the AIRS app for monthly reimbursement. The team that developed this solution brought together expertise in respiratory therapy, pressure swing adsorption and medical device manufacturing.

Honorable Mention: Automatically Adjusting Smart Portable Oxygen Concentrator

Team: Baltimore Respiratory Innovations, LLC.

Team Members:  Jonathan Smith, M.S.E. (lead), Wilson Tang, M.S.E., and Jessica Dakkak, M.S.E.

The Automatically Adjusting Smart Portable Oxygen Concentrator is a closed-loop portable oxygen concentrator that also enables remote patient monitoring by the patient's care team. It increases the duration of the oxygen supply, providing greater peace of mind to ambulatory oxygen patients and their healthcare providers. The team that developed this solution brought together expertise in biomedical engineering, oxygen burden, pulmonary and critical care, and in gathering patient feedback.