Simple design takes NIH top prize

IV DRIP team intends to save children in the developing world

Special to the Rice News

A simple design that evolved over two years and began with a mousetrap has won a team of Rice students top prize in the National Institutes of Health’s Biomedical Undergraduate Teams (DEBUT) competition.

It’s no longer a mousetrap, not even a better mousetrap, but a “low-cost, mechanical fluid regulator.”

“I guess the name isn’t as catchy, but the device (which no longer includes the mousetrap) is improved, and we know it will actually work in the field where it’s needed,” said Matthew Nojoomi, a junior majoring in bioengineering at Rice University and a member of the design team that created the award-winning IV DRIP (Dehydration Relief in Pediatrics).

Rice’s Team IV DRIP won in the category of technology to aid underserved populations. The Rice students will receive the $10,000 prize at the annual meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society in Seattle Sept. 25-28.

Team photo

Members of the IV DRIP team have won a National Institutes of Health competition for their device to save children in the developing world. From left, Thor Walker, Melissa Yuan, Michael Pan, Erica Skerrett, Bailey Flynn, Matthew Nojoomi and Kamal Shah. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

The other members of Team IV DRIP, all juniors in bioengineering, are Bailey Flynn, Michael Pan, Kamal Shah and Erica Skerrett. “The goal from the start was to regulate the amount of fluid delivered to children so we could prevent overhydration and dehydration,” said Shah, a member of the original team that organized two years ago. “It’s designed to be used in developing countries, where conditions are heart-wrenching and they may not even have electricity.”

Physicians working in Africa sparked the innovative design through discussions with Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden, who began traveling there seven years ago to seek real-world challenges for students in Rice’s Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) program. Richards-Kortum is the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Bioengineering and director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies, which oversees BTB. Oden is a professor in the practice of engineering education and director of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK).

“Physicians often told us they’d like a device to regulate IV-fluid delivery to children, who are often connected to adult IV bags,” Oden said.


A simple mechanical fluid regulator designed by students at Rice University has the potential to save lives. The device uses a lever with a movable counterweight to keep children from overhydration or dehydration. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

The original design incorporated a spring-loaded mousetrap and was conceived in fall 2011 as a freshman project in ENGI 120: Introduction to Engineering Design, a course taught by Ann Saterbak, a professor in the practice of bioengineering education. The original team consisted of Paige Horton, Shah, Taylor Vaughn, Thor Walker and Melissa Yuan, and the students continued work in spring 2012 with Rice 360˚. In summer 2012, Shah and Yuan transported two prototypes to Malawi and Lesotho to evaluate them under field conditions. Malawi, in southeastern Africa, is among the least-developed countries in the world, with a high infant mortality rate and a life expectancy of about 50 years. Some 760,000 children in developing countries die annually of dehydration.

“IV DRIP will enable clinicians in sub-Saharan Africa to safely administer IV therapy to children, saving the lives of thousands annually,” Skerrett said.

The device is a mechanical, simple-to-operate volume regulator that uses a lever arm with a movable counterweight similar to a physician’s scale to incrementally dispense IV fluid. It uses the change in torque as the IV bag is drained to set off the spring that clamps the IV tube and stops the flow of saline solution or other prescribed fluids. Tests show the device dispenses fluid within 14 milliliters of the desired volume in increments of 50 milliliters.

Field-testing resulted in two significant changes in design. First, the original mousetrap was replaced by a safer, easier-to-use spring-loaded mechanism and equipped with two knobs to load it. Second, the working mechanism was lowered to permit easier access for short-statured health care workers.

“We are very fortunate to be part of a program that gives undergraduates the opportunity to travel to sub-Saharan Africa to obtain and incorporate end-user feedback into their devices,” Pan said

With the aid of two grants from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance and matching grants from the OEDK and the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, the team incorporated the changes into the device and created a third-generation prototype that costs about $80 to manufacture. In contrast, infusion pumps that regulate the maximum volume of fluids in an IV cost between $1,000 and $3,500.

Team IV DRIP has already received the 2012 Willy Revolution Award for Innovation in Engineering Design. Two years ago, during the first annual National Undergraduate Global Health Technologies Design Competition hosted by Rice 360˚ and Beyond Traditional Borders, the team won the People’s Choice Award for best poster. It also picked up the $500 Best Freshman Design Award at the 2012 George R. Brown Engineering Design Showcase.

“The simple design of this device gives it the potential to have a widespread effect,” said Zeynep Erim, who manages the DEBUT competition for the NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. “The ability to look at a problem in health care and create an inexpensive and viable solution for worldwide distribution is the type of thinking we want to encourage with this program.”

—Patrick Kurp is a science writer in the George R. Brown School of Engineering.

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