Rice’s low-cost ‘infantAIR’ device wins big in international contest
BY JADE BOYD
Rice News staff
Rice University’s low-cost “infantAIR” device — a global health technology invented by Rice students to help newborns struggling with respiratory distress — was one of 19 projects selected for seed-grant funding July 29 at the Saving Lives at Birth global health contest in Washington, D.C.
The contest, which was jointly sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Norwegian government, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada and the World Bank — drew more than 600 entries.
Rice and the 18 other award nominees will now enter into final negotiations before awards can be issued.
In Rice’s project, a team of physicians and engineers from the United States and Malawi will refine Rice’s bubble continuous positive airway pressure device — or bCPAP — and implement it throughout the African nation of Malawi. The device is designed to help infants breathe when they are struggling with acute respiratory infections, the leading cause of global child mortality.
“We believe that the bCPAP device has the potential to greatly reduce neonatal mortality related to respiratory distress in low-resource settings, and we are so pleased to have been nominated for funding to implement this life-saving technology in Malawi,” said Rebecca Richards-Kortum, director of Rice 360° and the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Bioengineering.
The bCPAP was invented and improved by undergraduates in Rice 360°’s Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) program. The students worked at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen under the mentorship of pediatricians from Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH) and the University of Malawi’s Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH).
“bCPAP is a proven therapy to treat neonates in respiratory distress, but it is often too expensive for hospitals in the developing world,” said BTB’s Jocelyn Brown, who began developing the device in 2009 as part of her senior design course. “The device we developed has been shown to deliver the same therapeutic pressure as the bCPAP setup at Texas Children’s Hospital, while costing almost 35 times less.”
In the Saving Lives at Birth competition, Rice proposed a one-year program to refine and test the bCPAP device, and to develop a plan to scale up distribution of the device in rural hospitals throughout Malawi. Bioengineers from Rice 360° will collaborate with pediatricians at QECH and TCH as well as with industrial design engineers from 3rd Stone Design.
Pediatricians from University of Malawi-QECH will oversee the clinical trial of the device and offer design feedback. The team will also work with physicians at regional hospitals and clinics in Malawi to help facilitate countrywide scale-up.
A team from BCM and TCH will expand and refine clinical protocols and job aids for the bCPAP. It will also develop training materials for care givers, help to assess data gathered in clinical trials and develop easy-to-follow guidelines to help community health workers recognize infants who would benefit from the device.
3rd Stone Design’s industrial design team will perform a needs assessment at QECH and surrounding clinics to develop a clinical evaluation unit of the bCPAP device. 3rd Stone will also determine user expectations and needs, and it will identify engineering, medical, market and regulatory requirements for the bCPAP device.