It's been said that necessity is the mother of invention. If so, Matthew Callaghan, M.D., is taking that belief to a new level as he and his partners finalize development of a new ventilator that can help solve a serious health care challenge.

A prototype of the portable, low-cost ventilator.

Callaghan, a postdoctoral fellow in Stanford University's biodesign program, and a team of biodesign students have developed a 12-pound portable ventilator called OneBreath. The device is smaller, easier to use and costs far less than the typical ventilator found in most hospitals.

About three years ago Callaghan was an intern in general surgery at the University of California at San Francisco when talk surfaced about a potential global flu pandemic. Because ventilators cost up to $40,000, hospitals do not stockpile them, and a pandemic likely would cause rationing, Callaghan says.

Callaghan, who founded OneBreath, recently turned CEO duties over to a partner, but remains chief medical officer. He says the product is getting final design tweaks and then needs regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Product rollout is about a year away, he projects.

OneBreath is a for-profit company, but Callaghan is driven by other goals. "I don't want to take over the ventilator world and have the company become some giant global ventilator manufacturer. I just want to put lots of ventilators into hospitals that don't have any," he says.

The new ventilator already has generated plenty of interest and excitement. Popular Science magazine named it one of the top 10 inventions of 2010 and the device has won awards from the American Association for Respiratory Care and the American College of Surgery Clinical Congress.