HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN THE PROBLEM OF NEONATAL MORTALITY & MORBIDITY IN THIRD-WORLD SETTINGS?
This project to bring our lifesaving technology to low resource countries is a culmination of a long road. In 1991, as the Gulf war began with the bombing of Baghdad, my son was born in a small clinic without electricity or heat and very scarce medical supplies. Our newborn son started to lose temperature very rapidly, which put his life in danger. Although the clinic had functioning incubators, the lack of electricity made them useless pieces of equipment. Fortunately, we managed to save the life of our son, by running outside amidst sporadic gunfire to collect sticks to build a fire. However, my cousin was not as lucky. She lost her son at the same time for the exact the same reason. The lack of a functioning incubator!
When my son, Danny, was four months old, we escaped Iraq and made the long journey to the United States. I received my postdoctoral training in human gastroenterology from Tufts University and began a medical research career. I never lost my idea for solving the problem that we encountered in Iraq, but was busy raising a family and supporting our refugee community.
More than two decades later, this issue came to the forefront of my mind once again. Danny, who was studying for his Master’s Degree in Global Public Health at Boston University, shared some startling statistics. Namely, that there are currently more than 3.3 million babies that die each year due to the lack of access to neonatal incubators and there are more than 15 million babies that require access to incubators, but that do not receive it. A great many of these babies are born with developmental problems. I created Breegi Scientific with the idea of creating a low-cost technological solution.
In 2013, Danny earned his master in Public Health from Boston University, with a focus on global health in low resource settings. At that point, I knew it was time to work on a solution – an incubator that would work in a war zone or a remote clinic.
WHY ARE YOU INTERESTED IN SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
Throughout my life, I’ve been professionally committed to innovation and personally connected to humanitarian causes. Forming a company, and a related non-profit organization, based on these values is a dream come true.
My family belongs to a very old religion with origins in the Middle East, the Mandaeans. It is a peaceful religion based on the teachings of John the Baptist. Our Mandaean identity is guided by our efforts to preserve peace and seek knowledge. With a guiding principle to actively seek out injustice and to oppose it with knowledge, not iron.
As pacifists, Mandaean people have faced persecution throughout history. Shortly after first Gulf War, I was fortunate to have the means to move to the United States and pursue a career in biotech. After the 2003 Gulf War, violence against Mandaean people took a turn for the worse. In Iraq and Iran we were facing genocide. I decided to take a hiatus from my career in biotech and I traveled to ask for help from the U.N.H.C.R. in Geneva and from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. The recognition of the Mandaean plight by these critical partners, made a tremendous difference.
We worked to successfully relocate more than 2,500 Mandaeans from Iraq and Syria to Worcester, Massachusetts and throughout the United States.
HOW HAS YOUR PERSONAL HISTORY INFLUENCED BREEGI SCIENTIFIC?
Obviously, this is a project with a very personal genesis – from the birth of my son in war torn Iraq to my commitment to humanitarian issues. However, I did not initially want an eponymous company. I was discussing my plans for the company with my friend and mentor, Dr. Seymour Bigman, and I was telling him some of the names I was considering for the company. He stopped me in my tracks and was adamant that I name the company after my family name. Dr. Bigman, who has since passed away, knew that for a large part of my life, while in Iraq, my family couldn’t use our given Mandaean name, Breegi, and instead had to use more subtle mainstream names. Breegi has a well-known Mandaean lineage and we had to be hidden when we were living there due to the fact that the rise in sectarian violence made it dangerous to go by Breegi. As I’ve mentioned, my Mandaean identity is also tied to our company’s desire to do good in the world, so I am honored that Dr. Bigman encouraged me to embrace my heritage in this way.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE COMPANY?
In the short-term, we plan to fully develop the first multi-functional disposable low cost Neonatal Intensive Care Incubator (NICI) and conduct the appropriate clinical assessments. We then plan to distribute the NICI to the areas of the world that are in most need. We will begin in Honduras and other areas of South and Central America. Shortly followed with rollouts of this life-saving technology in Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Asia. We plan to work with governments and NGOs to widely distribute our life-saving technologies.
In the longer –term, we plan to develop the main component of the NICI, the disposable controlled microenvironment, for other uses, including wound healing, concealed laboratory biosafety cabinet, as well as for other novel uses. Additionally, we plan to develop other technologies for low resource settings.