Space researcher honoured as innovative entrepreneur
12 May 2022
Anders Ajaxon Persson, a researcher in space technology at Uppsala University and co-founder of the company Fourth State Systems, is one of the ten innovative entrepreneurs in Sweden to be awarded the ÅForsk Entrepreneurial Grant for 2022. He is being recognised for his drive to equip the healthcare sector with a new solution for monitoring the health of premature babies.
The recipients of the ÅForsk Entrepreneurial Grant are awarded the grant for their innovative ability to create positive effects for societal development. Space technology researcher Anders Ajaxon Persson is one of the ten chosen grant recipients for 2022.
“It feels fantastic to receive this grant. Receiving an innovation award in Sweden is a bit like winning a cross-country skiing race in Norway. It is a distinction and recognition that what we have done so far has been good, while at the same time giving us a boost as we move forward,” says Anders Ajaxon Persson.
A journey of innovation starting in space
Anders and his team have developed a new solution for continuously measuring oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood of premature babies. It all started as a research project at the Ångström Laboratory at Uppsala University, and it was space that the researchers initially had in mind for the highly sensitive gas sensor they created.
“The original research focused on finding traces of life on Mars. We took a giant leap in a different direction, and we usually start our pitches by saying that we started off looking for life in space, but now want to save life on Earth,” says Anders Ajaxon Persson.
The shift came from the fact that the gas sensor had many interesting properties that we not really needed in space. With that, the search began for other relevant applications for which the full potential of the new technology could be put to use. Blood gas measurement in neonatal care was the avenue that the researchers decided to pursue.
“It is a challenge when you start with a solution and then look for the problem it solves, but you ultimately need to pick a track and run with it. We see that our solution really has the potential to create value for the healthcare sector,” says Anders Ajaxon Persson.
The neonatal unit at Uppsala University Hospital played a major role in helping the team understand the needs and the problem associated with the blood gas measurement method used today.
Continuous blood gas monitoring in premature babies
The problem the team wants to solve is the ability to monitor blood gases in premature babies continuously throughout the day. This would give healthcare workers an even better chance of closely monitoring the health of the babies. With the current method, only a few short measurements can be done per day to avoid damaging the very sensitive skin of the premature baby.
“Thanks to the sensitivity of our sensor, there is no need to warm up the baby’s skin, which is required with the method used today. In addition, we developed a new way of measuring that does not require sticking something to the skin, which is also a must today. All that is needed is to place the gas collection unit, i.e. the measuring probe, against the skin for it to work,” he explains.
Today, Fourth State Systems has a working proprietary prototype, but so far Anders Ajaxon Persson and his team have only tested it on themselves. So, in addition to turning it into a professionally developed product, regular quality marking plus testing and evaluation within the healthcare sector are required before their solution is ready to be introduced on a broad scale.
Research becomes innovation
The company Fourth State Systems was founded in 2018, but the development work on the technology has been going on for longer, and always alongside continued research and teaching at the University. According to Anders Ajaxon Persson, this approach has worked well so far.
“We are in the starting blocks of the final phase, which needs more time and more money than we have at the moment. At the same time, we are well prepared with existing patents, several patent applications filed, and a good marketing plan,” he says.
The goal of the ÅForsk Entrepreneurial Grant is to stimulate and enable ambitious entrepreneurs with drive to take their ideas to the next level. For Anders Ajaxon Persson, the grant will take the company through the fork in the road they are currently facing – whether to strengthen the team and seek investors, or team up with a partner who will take over the development and commercialisation responsibilities.
“For us, the goal is for the research to become innovation; for the technology to make its way to the hospitals, be used, and be of benefit there. That is why we will choose the most promising route to achieving this.”
ÅForsk Entrepreneurial Grant
- The grant is run by the ÅForsk Foundation in collaboration with the industry organisation Swedish Incubators & Science Parks, SISP.
- The ten grant recipients are each awarded SEK 200,000, and are praised for their innovative ability to create positive effects for societal development.
- To be eligible for the grant, the applicant must be running an exciting and innovative company developed within the academic innovation ecosystem, such as incubators, science parks or innovation offices at colleges and universities.
- The technology and services on which the ideas of the 10 selected entrepreneurs are based are all rooted in research and development with a high level of innovation.
- The grant will be awarded on 18 May at the Sveriges Innovationsriksdag conference, which takes place in Sundsvall this year.