Gentoo founders Ben Nadeau and Greg Affsa.
Gentoo founders Ben Nadeau and Greg Affsa.

Life is already challenging enough for cancer patients, but what can make their lives even more challenging is the shoulder bags they have to carry for chemotherapy infusion treatments. For people receiving this kind of outpatient chemotherapy, the bag can be cumbersome and make the IV and pump equipment vulnerable to damage. It also might make them stand out in a crowd when all they want to do is get on with their day.

“The vest allows them to live their life normally.”

Gentoo, a startup born out of Wentworth Institute’s Accelerate program, is looking to provide a better alternative for these cancer patients with a light compression vest that holds the pump and IV equipment in place, giving them a more mobile, discrete and safe method for receiving outpatient chemotherapy. The product is called the Gentoo Vest, and its first commercial production run is expected to be funded through a $25,000 Kickstarter campaign that launched Monday.

“When you think about it, these are people that are fighting for their lives,” Gentoo co-founder Greg Affsa told BostInno. “They’re going through a traumatic and stressful experience, and not only do they have to deal with cancer treatment, they have to carry around something that impacts their life normally. It’s out there for the entire world to see. The vest allows them to live their life normally.”

The Gentoo Vest.
The Gentoo Vest.

Gentoo’s focus on building a vest for outpatient chemotherapy follows a general trend where healthcare organizations are putting a greater emphasis on outpatient care over inpatient care. That shift, according to a 2014 report by Becker’s Hospital Review, is the result of these organizations looking to find ways to improve the quality and outcome of patient care while saving money at the same time.

Affsa said he and his co-founder Ben Nadeau started working on the concept three years ago out of Wentworth’s Accelerate program after hearing from friends who told them about the difficulties cancer patients faced with the infusion shoulder bag. Gentoo had received $12,500 from Accelerate to develop the initial product, and, after having a false start with a manufacturer that had fallen through, the startup found a reliable manufacturer to make a test run of 45 vests in 2014.

During that period, the startup competed in MassChallenge and a competition run by UMass Lowell’s Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center. Besides the Accelerate money, it also ended up receiving $2,500 from Livestrong’s Big C Competition.

“I think the current setup is so awful that when people get something that’s significantly better, it’s pretty life changing.”

Gentoo ended up identifying 22 cancer patients who agreed to test out its vests in 2015, Affsa said, and all of them reported positive feedback after using it, saying that it was far better than the shoulder bag. In talking with the cancer patients, Affsa said he learned about all the various problems they faced using the shoulder bag. Since many of them have to receive treatment for weeks or even months, there are a variety of obstacles that can emerge over time.

In one instance Affsa said, a patient had slung their shoulder bag over a chair at a restaurant, only to have a waiter bump into it; they also reported problems with the shoulder bag getting caught on doors. Another patient reported that their cat ended up chewing on their IV bag after they rested the shoulder bag on a couch.

Affsa said the vest—which is meant to be covered with a shirt or some kind of other top—is designed to be flexible while keeping the infusion equipment secure and hidden inside at the same time. He added that it’s comfortable enough to wear all day and night. Since the vest is considered an infusion accessory, it’s not subject to regulatory approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“I think the current setup is so awful that when people get something that’s significantly better, it’s pretty life changing,” he said.

The Gentoo Vest, which is not covered by health insurance, will cost $100 each for Kickstarter backers, and all of the money raised will be used to fund the the startup’s first commercial production run, Affsa said. The startup is also encouraging people to purchase vests for donation to local cancer treatment facilities.

If the startup raises more than its $25,000 goal, Affsa said, it will be able to work on adapting the vest to house other kinds of devices, like heart rate monitors and bladder stimulation devices.

“It will allow us to go from being a one-product company to a multi-product company,” Affsa said. “We found this whole range of outpatient medical devices we can adapt the device to.”