Sudesh Sivarasu: the prolific inventor serving humanity through innovation

29 September 2017 | Story Lisa Boonzaier. Photo Michael Hammond.
Dr Sudesh Sivarasu.
Dr Sudesh Sivarasu.

Dr Sudesh Sivarasu, senior lecturer in the Division of Biomedical Engineering, was recently awarded the 2017 Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Achievement in Innovation for his invention and innovation achievements in the field of biomedical engineering and his contributions to fostering collaborative innovation internally at UCT, as well as nationally and internationally.

Sivarasu arrived at UCT just six years ago as an early career researcher to take up a lectureship post at the Department of Human Biology. By that point, he had already developed a high-flexion artificial knee implant as part of his PhD research in India – the country where he was also born.

Since then, Sivarasu has contributed invaluable inventions and innovations to the research community, but more importantly for him, to the everyday lives of people. He also founded the Medical Devices Lab and the Orthopaedic Biomechanics Lab at UCT's Faculty of Health Sciences. It was these achievements that were highlighted at UCT's 2017 Innovation Evening on 19 September, where Sivarasu was honoured.

The devices Sivarasu has invented have applications ranging from stroke rehabilitation, through to orthopaedic surgery, asthma therapy and children's medicine. His name is associated with 19 patents/patent applications and seven inventions at UCT. One device, the Laxmeter device, measures the laxity – or looseness – in the major knee joint ligaments. Sports injuries often compromise the laxity of ligaments.

An open-source invention of his provides a non-surgical solution to the drooping eyelids of people with ocular myasthenia gravis. It has been used by a number of patients at Cape Town's Groote Schuur Hospital.

Sivarasu also contributed to inventing a smart glove that helps leprosy patients sense tactile stimuli. This technology will help prevent injuries as a result of nerve damage and sensory loss. There were 210,758 new cases of leprosy in 2017, with India accounting for more than 60% of these.

“I believe that God created each one of us uniquely with a special set of gifts and talents. The onus lies on us to decide how we use these gifts for the betterment of humanity,” explains Sivarasu. “We can change the world we live in through consciously driven, sustainable and compassionate innovations. ”

Sivarasu conceptualised and trademarked the Frugal Biodesign approach, a novel process that aims to understand innovation in the context of resource-restricted environments, local conditions and the needs of the appropriate ’user‘ – that is, the clinician. As a senior lecturer, it is a model that he has applied successfully with his students and his own research.

"The way Dr Sivarasu has integrated intellectual property into the postgraduate design course that he teaches has been particularly impressive," says Dr Andrew Bailey, senior manager of innovation at Research Contracts & Innovation. "This approach has yielded new inventions that have been patented, and more importantly, it's better equipping graduates for future careers in industry."

Two of Sivarasu's postgraduate students are at the point of forming a spin-off company to commercialise at least two of the recent inventions that have originated from the research group.

Sivarasu has been recognised nationally and internationally for his innovation excellence. Earlier this year, he was named among the 2017 Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans in the Science and Technology category. He was also the recipient of the South African Department of Science and Technology’s 2017 Innovation Bridge award for the Innovation most likely to find markets.


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