​Aspiring medical technology entrepreneurs in a recent start-up competition have developed a medical device to help those who suffer from haemorrhoids.   The team is made up of Dr Rena Dharmawan, 28, Mr Prusothman Sina Raja, 27, Dr Benjamin Tee, 32, and Dr Cecilia Wang, 30.

The disposable device called Privi, which is also the team's name, is made for use at home. It aims to alleviate and reduce the recurrence of bleeding and painful symptoms caused by haemorrhoids.

Haemorrhoids, also known as piles, are abnormally engorged and swollen blood vessels that may rupture and cause bleeding.   The team took home $100,000 in cash with no strings attached, after beating more than 200 teams at NTUC Income's recently concluded Future Starter competition.

The insurer funds Privi at the seed-capital stage without any stake.   This is part of its Future Made Different campaign, to help young Singaporeans realise their dreams.  All Privi members left their jobs to join the year-long Singapore-Stanford Biodesign Fellowship Office programme in January.   Mr Prusothman said they thought of the idea at Stanford, after spending a month in the hospital and clinics there, focusing on gastrointestinal tract issues.

"Something that kept coming up was haemorrhoids. Rena and I met a gentleman who was about 50. He looked really affected and we found out he had a bleeding episode that morning," he said.

"That was when it really occurred to us that just because it's not life-threatening, it doesn't mean it does not affect their quality of life."

Dr Dharmawan, a clinician, observed that many patients were embarrassed about discussing their condition.   She said: "A lot of them try to solve it at home, but there was no effective treatment at home. We found that gap and decided to work from there."

The patent on the product is pending, and Privi hopes to have another round of funds to prepare for mass production and clinical trials, and launch the product in the market by 2017. Dr Dharmawan noted that the fellowship office is providing the members with a basic stipend to continue the project next year.

Mr Prusothman said the $100,000 is "a tremendous shot in the arm" for work on the prototype and the clinical trial stage.

Dr Tee added: "Basically, we have only time or money. Now that we have money, it buys us the time to push the project forward."

Mr Marcus Chew, senior vice-president of strategic marketing and communications at NTUC Income, said: "Privi's idea, which is born out of extensive research, has a global reach and huge potential commercial success.

"The team has a strong panel of advisers and its idea, (which is) sustainable, can have a strong social impact on people across the world."

Source: The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.