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  • Thu, June 05, 2014 10:48 AM | Amy Kavalewitz (Administrator)

    HHMI awards Rice $1.9 million for STEM innovation

    Rice will incorporate hands-on problem-solving in more introductory courses

    The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) today awarded a $1.9 million, four-year grant to Rice University to alter several of its introductory science courses to include strategies that have proven extraordinarily successful at increasing retention of science and engineering majors in Rice’s innovative hands-on global health technologies programs.

    The new grant is part of a $60 million effort HHMI launched today with 37 grants to develop effective strategies to significantly reduce the attrition rate of students majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM.

    According to HHMI, more than 1 million students enter college each year intending to major in in STEM disciplines. Of those, fewer than half complete a STEM baccalaureate degree, and the attrition rate for underrepresented minorities is even worse undefined as much as 80 percent.

    “We know that most of the attrition occurs in the first two years of college, when students are taking introductory ‘gateway’ courses in chemistry, math and biology,” said Sean Carroll, vice president for science education at HHMI. “For some students, the introductory courses are their only exposure to science.”

    Rebecca Richards-Kortum

    Rebecca Richards-Kortum

    Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Rice’s Stanley C. Moore Professor in Bioengineering, chair of the Department of Bioengineering and the principal investigator on the new HHMI grant, said Rice does significantly better than the national average at retaining its STEM majors.

    “About 60 percent of Rice students pursue STEM degrees, and our faculty have long been committed to keeping them engaged both by incorporating inquiry-based methods in introductory STEM courses and through laboratory research opportunities,” Richards-Kortum said.

    Despite these efforts, Richards-Kortum said at least one-quarter of incoming STEM freshmen end up changing to a non-STEM major, and the rates are significantly higher for women and underrepresented minorities.

    In 2006, with funding from HHMI, Rice launched a novel undergraduate global health program called Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB), which challenges students to come up with practical solutions to real-world problems in the developing world. The program caught on quickly at Rice; within four years, more than 10 percent of the university’s undergraduates had taken at least one BTB class. Rice institutionalized the program by establishing a minor in global health technologies (GLHT) in 2008.

    GLHT students work to solve open-ended challenges beginning in their freshman year, and the curriculum is designed to keep students engaged in real-world problem-solving throughout their entire undergraduate experience. The program has been recognized as a national model for inquiry-based education by both Science magazine and the National Academy of Engineering.

    “We’ve found that STEM attrition rates are significantly lower among our global health students,” Richards-Kortum said. “In fact, the program actually spurs some non-STEM students to change their majors to a STEM field.”

    Based on this early success, Richards-Kortum and a small group of key faculty will lead a team of 25 Rice faculty to systematically apply the proven framework of the GLHT model to undergraduate education throughout Rice’s Wiess School of Natural Sciences and George R. Brown School of Engineering.

    Janet Braam

    “We are planning to incorporate the hands-on, experiential learning techniques from that program across a wide range of our introductory courses in biology, chemistry and bioengineering,” said Janet Braam, Wiess Professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology and one of the HHMI grant key personnel. “We plan to implement a series of project-based STEM courses for students intending to major in three large degree programs undefined chemistry, bioengineering, and biochemistry and cell biology undefined that together account for about 40 percent of all STEM degree recipients at Rice.”

    The program aims to solidify freshmen students’ interest in and commitment to STEM by immediately engaging them in solving authentic, open-ended scientific and engineering challenges. For sophomores and juniors, the goal is to reinforce skills and interests through courses that engage in open-ended interdisciplinary projects. In addition, the program aims to provide mentoring and support for independent research, as well as monitoring, supplemental tutoring and early research opportunities for at-risk STEM students.

    Braam and Richards-Kortum say they hope that this “layered experience” will improve overall STEM graduation rates at Rice by 10 percent in engineering and 15 percent in science. In addition, they hope it will close the gap in rates of STEM persistence for underrepresented minorities by at least half.


    - See more at: http://news.rice.edu/2014/05/29/hhmi-awards-rice-1-9-million-for-stem-innovation/#sthash.ZDq2YWfS.dpuf
  • Fri, April 25, 2014 9:57 AM | Rice 360° (Administrator)

    ‘Flappy’ device delivers fat to preemies

  • Mon, April 14, 2014 4:00 PM | Rice 360° (Administrator)

    Rice bioengineers aim for one-cent jaundice test

    Rice University senior design team BiliQuant has wasted no time collecting awards for its low-cost method of diagnosing jaundice.

    Team members Stephanie Tzouanas and Melody Tan took first place last week in the poster competition at the University of Minnesota’s Design of Medical Devices Conference International Student Showcase. Add that to BiliQuant’s second-place finish at this spring’s Rice Undergraduate Venture Challenge and its Most Impactful Award from the Houston Global Health Collaborative’s Connect Conference, and the five-member team can already count 2014 as a banner year.

    But there’s more to BiliQuant than a shelf full of awards for the team, which consists of Brown College’s Tan, Jones College’s Tzouanas, Rohan Shah and Monica Barrera and Wiess College’s Jacinta Leyden.

    “This team was tasked with solving a hard problem, and they’ve definitely risen to the challenge,” said BiliQuant faculty adviser Maria Oden, professor in the practice of bioengineering and director of Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. “For me, the most exciting part of this will happen later, when the technology is field-tested. If this works in a clinical setting, it could impact many lives.”

    BiliQuant team members (from left) Monica Barrera, Stephanie Tzouanas, Melody Tan, Rohan Shah and Jacinta Leyden.

    Jaundice is characterized by the yellowing of the skin and affects about 60 percent of infants worldwide. The condition is caused by elevated levels of bilirubin, a byproduct of the body’s constant replenishment of red blood cells. For some infants, including about 2.5 million each year in sub-Saharan Africa, bilirubin can build up to levels that can cause permanent brain damage.

    It’s easy to treat jaundiced babies with phototherapy units that deliver a type of blue light that breaks down bilirubin. The lights are available in many developing-world hospitals undefined and Rice’s global-health students have even tackled the problem of lowering the cost for them undefined but diagnosing which babies to treat is still a big problem.

    “You can appropriately diagnose jaundice using a number of tests that are completely unsuitable for the developing world,” Tzouanas said. “It can be diagnosed from blood samples, but the tests typically require a centrifuge, which most developing-world hospitals do not have. There are also devices that shine light on the infant’s skin, but these are expensive, and they don’t work well on infants who are dark-skinned.”

    As a result, most physicians in the developing world diagnose jaundice simply by looking for signs of yellowing skin. Because it is difficult to accurately gauge the severity of jaundice by sight, there’s a dual risk of both undertreatment and overtreatment.

    BiliQuant prototype

    “We knew that our solution would need to be inexpensive, and one thing that often drives up costs is disposables undefined the things like plastic cuvettes that we think nothing of using once and throwing away,” Tzouanas said.

    Building on point-of-care hemoglobin-testing concepts developed by bioengineering graduate student Meaghan Bond and her faculty adviser, Department of Bioengineering Chair Rebecca Richards-Kortum, the team created a test system that uses paper strips. Their test involves pricking the baby’s heel and collecting a tiny spot of blood on the paper. The paper is then inserted into a slot in a small machine, where inexpensive LED lights shine through the paper. An onboard microprocessor converts the acquired signal into the concentration of bilirubin present, and the value obtained is read out on a small LCD screen. Estimated cost per test: one penny.

    Though the idea is simple, the implementation hasn’t been, particularly given the problems associated with separating blood components and achieving the target accuracy, plus or minus five milligrams of bilirubin per deciliter of blood.

    “Hemoglobin has a very high optical density, and its signal actually masks that of bilirubin, so you typically need to separate the blood components to get a clear signal,” Tan said. “People usually use a centrifuge to do that, and performing the separation on paper has been a challenge.”

    The team hopes to have a complete working prototype assembled for this Thursday’s Engineering Design Showcase, and they are still compiling results about the accuracy of the tests. They’ll also go for another award later this month in Washington, D.C., as one of 10 finalists selected to compete in this year’s American Society of Mechanical Engineers Innovation Showcase, or IShow.


    About Jade Boyd

    Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.
    - See more at: http://news.rice.edu/2014/04/16/rice-bioengineers-aim-for-one-cent-jaundice-test/#sthash.Q62wli7u.dpuf
  • Thu, April 10, 2014 9:46 AM | Rice 360° (Administrator)

    Saving Newborns In Malawi With Bubble CPAP

    An innovative, low-cost bubble CPAP device designed by undergraduates at Rice University is saving the lives of Malawi’s preterm newborns suffering from severe respiratory complications.
    By Heidi Nye

    Malawian newborn using Pumani bubble CPAP device

    Worldwide, more than one in 10 babies are born premature.1 Eleven countries have preterm birth rates of more than 15%, and Malawi in southeastern Africa tops the list at 18%undefinednearly one in every five births.1 Prematurity (born at less than 37 weeks of gestation) is closely linked to acute respiratory infections, the leading cause of death in children under 5 years old.2

    Because their lungs are underdeveloped, preemies are especially susceptible to respiratory problems. In developed countries, like the United States, the latest in medical technology can often treat complications before they become life-threatening. However, in much of the developing world, where access to expensive equipment and the resources to purchase them are both scarce, prematurity often means an early death or a life of disability.

    But thanks to the ingenuity and determination of bioengineering students at Rice University in Houston, newborns in Malawi suffering from severe respiratory complications now have access to the life-saving technology known as bubble CPAP.

    The Rice-Malawi Connection

    The Rice 360° Institute for Global Health Technologies and its undergraduate component, Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB), design and find the means to produce and implement low-cost medical devices for use in resource-strapped countries. Over 400 students in BTB have helped design a total of 58 global health technologies that have gone on to benefit 60,000 people in 28 countries, according to Rice 360°.

    Beginning in 2006, Rice 360° partnered with Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre, Malawi, to help solve the problem of severe respiratory failure in newborns. Under the leadership of Rebecca Richards-Kortum, PhD, the Stanley C. Moore Professor and chair of Rice’s bioengineering department and director of both BTB and Rice 360°, students began designs for a low-cost bubble CPAP device, which prevents upper airway collapse and improves oxygenation by maintaining positive airway pressure.

    The key principle for the project, apart from safety and effective functionality, was low cost. Traditional bCPAP devices can cost upwards of $6,000. To make the device affordable and reproducible for Malawi hospitals, BTB students began with a bCPAP prototype made with a plastic shoebox and aquarium pumps.

    Pumani bubble CPAP devicesLater iterations of the device, named Pumaniundefinedwhich means “breath” in the Malawian language of Chichewaundefinedused consumer-grade regulators and aquarium pumps and opted for analog flow meters and gravimetric flow tubes. They also added a sheet metal casing, a flow generator, and a patient interface. The flow generator provides ambient airflow to the infant, and an optional oxygen port allows caregivers to treat patients with supplemental oxygen.

    Like other bCPAP devices, submersion of one end of the tubing in a bottle of water creates pressure. By increasing the depth of the tube, the caregiver increases the pressure and the production of bubbles. Pressurized flow helps prevent air sac collapse, thereby allowing the infant to breathe easier. Unlike other devices, however, the entire Pumani system costs less than $400 to manufactureundefinedabout 6% of the cost of traditional bCPAP devices, according to Rice 360°.

    “Our students spent a lot of time designing a machine that would deliver equivalent air flow and pressure at a low cost,” said Maria Oden, director of Rice University’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, who cofounded the BTB program with Richards-Kortum.

    Pumani doesn’t humidify the pressurized air to prevent mucosal drying, so attending nurses must administer saline nasal drops insteadundefineda low-tech, low-cost solution. But where the device lacks in implements, it more than makes up for in results, which are the most important aspect of the device, according to Elizabeth Molyneux, MD. Molyneux is a pediatrician at QECH who met Richards-Kortum in 2005 and helped initiate the partnership with Rice 360°.

    “It doesn’t have the whistles and flashing lights that are present on more expensive models,” said Molyneux. “We’re providing the bare essentials, but we’re still saving lives. My view is that we should look at what is really needed. So much in our modern world is far beyond what we need.”

    Bringing an Idea into the World

    Designing the device was only part one of the process. For part two, Rice 360° turned to Northern California-based manufacturing partner, 3rd Stone Design. 3rd Stone partners with research organizations and NGOs to design and develop consumer, medical, and renewable energy products.

    The Pumani project is 3rd Design’s third venture with Rice 360°. The first was a microscope designed by a BTB student, followed by a solution called DoseRight, which helps parents administer the accurate dosage of anti-retroviral medicine to their HIV-positive children. A small clip attaches to a syringe and ensures the correct amount of fluid is withdrawn. The DoseRight product has sold more than 400,000 units.

    “Too often, inventions are solutions looking for a home,” said 3rd Stone CEO Robert Miros, “When college students want to invent something to save the world, they need to think about how it fits into the manufacturing process: the cost of goods, the assembly line work flow, the supply chain, the restocking of reusable elements, if it makes business sense. We understand the process by which a good idea moves out of a university setting and into a viable product.”

    In the case of Pumani, the only maintenance cost is the biannual replacement of a diaphragm that costs less than a dollar. “We made Pumani with durability in mind because it conceivably has to travel from one side of the planet to the other. Plus, it will be repeatedly sterilized with caustic bleach, so it was built to withstand that sort of treatment,” said Miros.

    He added that, generally, in developing countries “there are skilled technicians who know how to fix the device, but they just don’t have the necessary components to do so. In order for a product to have a long life, you have to consider parts” and power sources.

    Miros traveled to QECH in Malawi because it was crucial for him to go on-site to “see what kind of shelf Pumani is placed on, what are the light conditions, portability issues, if there’s sufficient space to move around it, and to talk with the nurses and doctors who provide invaluable feedback.”

    Promising Field Tests

    In 2011, the Pumani project was awarded a seed grant from Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development, a joint initiative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, and other organizations. The grant allowed Rice 360° to conduct a clinical study of its bubble CPAP device.

    QECH tested Pumani on a 6-month-old with bronchitis and a neonate with respiratory distress due to congenital pneumonia. Within an hour of beginning Pumani treatment, the baby’s oxygen saturation improved from 60% to 100%, while the neonate’s increased from 55% to 93% in 4 hours.2

    Meanwhile, a follow-up study3 of 87 neonates suffering from respiratory distress at QECH found that the survival rate for the Pumani group was 71%, compared to 44% for the control group, which received nasal oxygen (see Figure 1). Of the 29 very-low-birth-weight neonates receiving Pumani, 19 (65.5%) survived to discharge, compared with only 1 of 13 (15.4%) who received nasal oxygen.3

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. Overall survival of eligible study participants receiving nasal oxygen vs bCPAP. [3]

    For neonates with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), survival was 64.6% for the Pumani group, compared to 23.5% in the control group. Neonates with sepsis also fared better using Pumani compared to nasal oxygen: 61.5% (16 out of 26) of the newborns treated with bCPAP survived, while none of the seven neonates with sepsis in the control group survived (see Figure 2).

    Figure 2.

    Figure 2. Survival of participants with RDS and sepsis receiving nasal oxygen vs bCPAP. [3]

    Moving Forward

    In 2012, Rice 360° earned a Saving Lives at Birth transition grant to implement the bCPAP device in every central and district hospital in Malawi. Phase 1 put Pumani into 11 government district hospitals in Malawi; Phase 2 put the device into another 10 hospitals; and Phase 3 will equip the country’s remaining six government district hospitals. To date, BTB students have trained more than 300 healthcare professionals in the use of Pumani.

    ”I’ve seen undergraduates grow up,” said Oden, “seeing that what they’ve designed is saving lives on the other side of the planet. It’s very gratifying for me, as a professor, to see students identify problems and then solve them.”

    Based on the results, Richards-Kortum and colleagues who participated in the study believe providing low-cost bCPAP, like the Pumani device, in central and district hospitals could prevent 178,000 neonatal deaths3 annually on the African continent, where nearly 1 million babies die each year within a week of birth, according to WHO estimates.4

    “While the cost of the bCPAP device has been reduced, the cost and availability of consumables, staff support, and support equipment remain a barrier to scale-up. Nonetheless, implementing such a system has the potential to improve neonatal care and health outcomes in low-resource settings,” Richards-Kortum and colleagues commented in a 2014 report on the clinical trial.

    The project’s success has garnered significant attention for the Rice 360° program. In June of last year, Oden and Richards-Kortum received a $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation. Using the grant, the pair created the Day One Project, a Rice 360° initiative that will build a new neonatal ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital.

    Molyneux at QECH

    Elizabeth Molyneux hugs a pediatric nurse at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital while Rice 360°/BTB student Jocelyn Brown looks on.

    The goal for the neonatal unit is to provide “excellent care to the world’s most vulnerable babies, while serving as an innovation hub for affordable, high-performance technologies that can improve care for newborns throughout the region,” according to information on the project’s website. Including the $100,000 from Oden and Richards-Kortum, the project has fund-raised a total of $339,928.5

    Rice 360° also has another ongoing venture with 3rd Stone Design for a solution to apnea of prematurity, in which infants stop breathing during sleep. Developed by BTB students, the BabaLung Apnea Monitor detects cessation of breath and stimulates the infant to resume breathing. If the infant does not take a breath for 20 seconds, a vibrating motor stimulates breathing. “BabaLung is still in development and optimization,” said Richards-Kortum. “We’ll take it to Malawi when the technical performance has been improved.”

    Rice 360° also hopes to expand the impact of its bubble CPAP device beyond Malawi. Beginning in July 2014, Pumanis and trainers will head for district hospitals in South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia, where newborns and families can expect the same life-saving results as those at QECH.

    “My colleagues are enormously grateful for another tool to help babies who might otherwise die,” said Molyneux, who recounted the story of one grandparent who was convinced her grandchild was going to die, so she gave it the name “Chokonjetsa,” which means “thrown away.” The grandmother resisted using the Pumani device, but the baby’s mother was convinced it would help. Now 6 months old, Chokonjetsa is a happy “fat, little baby,” according to Molyneux.

    “The mothers are so grateful because the babies they felt for certain would die are alive,” said Molyneux.  “This is a wonderful thing.” RT


    Heidi Nye is a contributing writer to RT. For further information, contact RTeditor@allied360.com.



    1. March of Dimes, Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Childhood Health, Save the Children, World Health Organization (2012). Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth. Eds. Howson CP, Kinney MV, Lawn JE. Geneva: World Health Organization Press. Accessed here.

    2. Brown J, Machen HE, Kawaza K, et al. A high-value, low-cost bubble continuous positive airway pressure system for low-resource settings: technical assessment and initial case reports. PLOS One. 2013;8(1). Accessed here.

    3. Kawaza K, Machen HE, Brown J, et al. Efficacy of a low-cost bubble CPAP system in treatment of respiratory distress in a neonatal ward in Malawi. PLOS One. 2014;9(1). Accessed here.

    4. Zupan J, Åhman E. Neonatal and perinatal mortality: country, regional and global estimates. Geneva: World Health Organization. 2006.

    - See more at: http://www.rtmagazine.com/2014/04/saving-newborns-malawi-bubble-cpap/#sthash.4GN30qVn.dpuf
  • Fri, March 28, 2014 5:05 PM | Rice 360° (Administrator)

    Wright State team wins global health design competition

    Jimma Institute team places with long-distance presentation from Ethiopia

    Wright State University’s Team Digital X-Ray took top honors in the 2014 National Undergraduate Global Health Technology Design Competition held at Rice University March 28 with its innovative approach to digitally capturing X-rays. The team captured first place in the  annual competition with a low-cost device that used off-the-shelf components and alleviated the need for hospitals in the developing world to purchase costly film, chemicals and other supplies.

    Bioengineering's Maria Oden (left), co-director of Rice's Beyond Traditional Borders program, meets with Wright State University's Team Digital X-Ray -- Amena Shermadou, Katherine Gamber, Megan Markl and Luke Stork -- and the team's faculty adviser, Thomas Hangartner, distinguished professor of biomedical engineering, medicine and physics and chair of the Department of Biomedical, Industrial and Human Factors Engineering at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Credit: Wright State University

    The competition, which is sponsored by Rice 360° Institute for Global Health Technologies and Beyond Traditional Borders, grew by more than 30 percent this year and drew 35 teams, including nine from Rice and five from the Jimma Institute of Technology (JIT) at Ethiopia’s Jimma University. Twenty-three teams from 18 universities participated in the final round of competition.

    Second prize went to Team Cervical Cancer Screening Simulator from the University of Michigan for a device to help train clinical practitioners in the proper way to screen patients for cervical cancer using a common test called VIA. About 84 percent of cervical cancer cases occur in the developing world, and it has been estimated that properly conducted VIA tests could save millions of lives.

    JIT’s Team Maranatha undefined which competed with a prerecorded presentation from Ethiopia undefined took third prize with its clever yet simple device for alerting practitioners about an overflowing suction pump undefined a serious situation in developing-world hospitals that often lack backup pumps. The award marked the first time that a team has placed in the competition via a long-distance submission, and conference organizers said they hope the win will spur international interest.

    “It is especially exciting to have the continued participation of teams from JIT, which first competed last year with two teams,” said competition organizer Veronica Leautaud, director of education for Rice’s Beyond Traditional Borders program. “Their participation is leading the way for us to expand the event to include more international teams in the future. The JIT teams offered everyone a glimpse into solutions that are being developed locally in Africa, and that’s something we’d like to feature more.”

    Teams were judged on how clearly they articulated the global health needs that their technology sought to address. They were also scored on the technical and social feasibility of their proposed solutions, and judges also considered the team’s plans for overcoming technical and social hurdles. Each team was given six minutes to present its design. Jimma teams competed via pre-recorded videos and answered judges’ questions live via Skype. A live broadcast at JIT’s Presidents Auditorium also allowed students in Ethiopia to view the competition and awards ceremony in real time.

    “All the judges for the competition are drawn from outside of Rice,” Leautaud said. “This year we had 15 clinicians, engineers and researchers from across the Texas Medical Center, the University of Houston and Texas State University at San Marcos. We also had global health clinicians from Austin and Frisco, Texas, and one judge from the U.S. Agency for International Development.”

    Leautaud said there were also five judges from the diagnostic and biomedical device industry, including representatives from companies and nonprofits such as D-Rev, PATH and Becton Dickinson, which have a strong track record in global health.

    The keynote address, “Congratulations, Your Prototype Works! Now What?”, was delivered by Randy Schwemmin, director of technical operations at San Francisco-based nonprofit D-Rev. D-Rev delivers products to improve the health and increase the income of people who live on less than $4 a day. Schwemmin offered insights about how the student-designers could take the next step in getting their products into widespread use.

    The best poster award went to Rice’s own Team ResVolution for its smartphone-based multispectral and panoramic microscope. The people’s choice award went to the University of Wisconsin’s Team Algo Cerv for its innovative app to interpret cervical cancer biopsies.


    - See more at: http://news.rice.edu/2014/03/31/wright-state-team-wins-global-health-design-competition-2/#sthash.V95lmPEk.dpuf
  • Thu, March 20, 2014 9:49 AM | Rice 360° (Administrator)

    Associate Editor, BioOptics World

    The Optical Society (OSA; Washington, DC) has selected Rebecca Richards-Kortum of Rice University (Houston, TX) as the recipient of the 2014 Michael S. Feld Biophotonics Award. The award recognizes Richards-Kortum's work in "advancing the applications of optics in disease diagnosis and inspiring work in disseminating low-cost health technologies to the developing world."

    Richards-Kortum is Rice's Stanley C. Moore Professor and chair of the Department of Bioengineering and a professor of electrical and computer engineering. She is director of both Beyond Traditional Borders and Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technology, and oversees the Optical Spectroscopy and Imaging Laboratory.

    Established in 2012, the Feld Biophotonics Award recognizes individuals for their innovative and influential contributions to the field of biophotonics. It is named in honor of photonics pioneer Michael Feld and will be presented at OSA’s Frontiers in Optics Annual Meeting, to be held October 19-23, 2014, in Tucson, AZ.

    In December 2013, Richards-Kortum was elected a fellow of the OSA. For the past two decades, she has focused on translating research that integrates advances innanotechnology and molecular imaging with microfabrication technologies to develop portable optical imaging systems that are inexpensive and provide point-of-care diagnosis. This basic and translational research is highly collaborative and has led to new technologies to improve the early detection of cancers and other diseases, especially in impoverished countries.


  • Thu, May 02, 2013 4:47 PM | Rice 360° (Administrator)

    May 2, 2013

    The latest student invention from Rice University’s award-winning engineering design program undefined a set of intravenous tubing that could slash IV-related infections undefined looks so simple. But looks can be deceiving.

    The four graduating seniors who created the EZ Flush IV tubing set spent hundreds of hours creating an elegant solution to a major health care problem in the developing world: Most hospitals there cannot afford the prefilled saline syringes that nurses in developed countries routinely use to flush IV lines.

    Regular flushing prevents infections from forming around the IV catheter, a thin, flexible tube that stays inside the patient’s arm. Infections from catheters can be deadly, and the rate of these infections is much higher in developing countries.

    Smooth Saline team members Becky Zaunbrecher, Lindsay Miller, Jessica Williams and Kathleen Wiest are each slated to graduate May 11 with degrees in bioengineering. Prior to teaming up last fall at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), all four had taken courses in global health, and three had spent a summer abroad testing innovative medical designs in the developing world as part of Rice’s award-winning, hands-on engineering education program Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB).

    Smooth Saline team member Lindsay Miller explains the EZ Flush design to Rice University Representative Y. Ping Sun at Rice's annual Engineering Design Showcase.

    “Ours is pretty unique in terms of a global health project because ours was actually pitched by Becton/Dickenson, a medical device company in the United States,” Wiest said. “BD sells prefilled saline syringes in the United States and around the world, and they asked us to create a new design that would be more affordable for developing countries.”

    Smooth Saline’s ingenious solution would allow a nurse in a low-resource hospital to regularly flush IV lines using sterile saline from a patient’s IV bag. All that’s required is a set of IV tubing that contains three tiny clamps, about six inches of extra tubing and a tiny plastic pouch about the size of a ketchup packet. To flush an IV catheter, a nurse simply clamps off the IV line leading to the patient’s arm, redirects a few milliliters of sterile saline from the IV bag into the pouch, opens one clamp, closes another and then squeezes the saline from the pouch through the catheter.

    “If we add up the features of our prototype, it costs us about $2.50 to manufacture the whole thing,” Williams said. “But we’re using slightly more expensive parts since we don’t buy them in bundles of 5 million like an IV tubing manufacturer would.”

    Smooth Saline team members Becky Zaunbrecher and Jessica Williams test some prototypes to determine if the seals are watertight.

    With economies of scale, Smooth Saline estimates the design will add less than $1 to the cost of producing a set of IV tubing. Because each set can be used for about two dozen flushes, the per-flush cost of adding the feature is around 4 cents.

    The EZ Flush design earned Smooth Saline the top prize in Rice 360°’s Undergraduate Global Health Technology Design Competition as well as first prize in Rice’s annual Undergraduate Elevator Pitch Competition. The simplicity of the award-winning design is worthy of a team with such terrific chemistry that the members often finish one another’s sentences. But arriving at the design was far from easy.

    “It was very iterative,” Miller said. ” We didn’t start out with our end prototype in mind.”

    “We didn’t start anywhere near that,” Williams said. “We started with a Windex bottle or maybe like a Nerf-gun type thing.”

    “We had a lot of crazy ideas to start with,” Zaunbrecher said.

    Some of the crazy ideas had to do with producing saline. The team knew it would be expensive to ship, so they toyed with lots of notions about producing it on site.

    Smooth Saline team members (from left) Jessica Williams, Kathleen Wiest, Lindsay Miller and Becky Zaunbrecher.

    “At a certain point, we were talking about making giant vats of saline, and we realized it was just NOT feasible to expect doctors or nurses to do that,” Williams said.

    Smooth Saline credits their OEDK advisers undefined bioengineering faculty members Ann Saterbak and Maria Oden undefined with directing them toward the more practical option of using what was already available.

    “They already have IV bags at all hospitals and clinics,” Miller said. “The biggest decision we made was to take advantage of the saline that was already there, and that’s what led us to design this IV tubing set.”

    But that too was a challenge. In fact, most of their initial ideas about how to get the saline from the bags were also overly complex.

    “As we were drawing out our ideas, we were literally drawing tubing sets without realizing that we were drawing them,” Wiest said. “We were coming up with these ideas of connecting something between an IV bag and a patient, and it didn’t dawn on us until …”

    “… after we had designed it, and someone phrased it to us differently,” Zaunbrecher continued. “And we were like, ‘Oh, wow. It really is just an IV tubing set with something added on.’ It was a big breakthrough day because we realized that was how we could market it and sell it, and it would just make it much more accessible and usable by nurses.”

    All four members of Smooth Saline credit BTB and Rice’s global health program with permanently changing their lives. Williams is joining the Peace Corps in June, and Wiest decided to become a doctor rather than an engineer and to practice medicine in the developing world.

    “I don’t plan on directly pursing global health, but it’s definitely changed my outlook on health technologies,” said Zaunbrecher, who, like Miller, plans to attend graduate school in bioengineering. “It will definitely always stay with me … the importance of keeping health technologies accessible to everyone and just helping the overall health of the planet and not just a small subset of the people who can afford something.”

  • Wed, May 01, 2013 8:00 AM | Amy Kavalewitz (Administrator)

    Rice U. professors share Lemelson-MIT award, donate prize money

    Richards-Kortum, Oden give their $100,000 prize to Malawi hospital for new nursery


    HOUSTON -- (May 1, 2013) -- Rice University bioengineering professors Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden, the winners of the 2013 $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation, are donating their prize money toward the construction of a new neonatal ward at the African hospital that has helped implement Rice's low-cost, student-designed health care technologies since 2007.

    The Lemelson-MIT Program today announced that Oden and Richards-Kortum won the prestigious award in honor of their life-saving inventions and pioneering efforts to inspire and lead Rice students to invent and deliver low-cost technological innovations to improve health care for people in developing nations.

    "When Maria and I learned we had won this award, we both knew exactly how we wanted to use the prize money," Richards-Kortum said. "Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre (Malawi) is an extraordinary place that is committed to caring for the world's most vulnerable patients. The physicians there have shown us how simple innovations can dramatically improve neonatal health, and they've inspired us to engage our students in solving the challenges of newborn care in low-resource settings."

    Oden and Richards-Kortum are two of the driving forces behind the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health Technologies and Rice 360°'s award-winning, hands-on engineering education program Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB). BTB is an engineering-design program founded in 2006 with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. More than 10 percent of Rice undergraduates -- including many non-engineering students -- have participated in BTB, which has produced 58 low-cost health technologies, including two that are already being broadly distributed by national health authorities in the developing world.

    "Each year, more than 3 million babies die within the first month of life," Oden said. "Ninety-nine percent of those deaths happen in the developing world, and many of them could be prevented if hospitals in low-income countries had access to a few low-cost technologies that combat the most common causes of infant mortality."

    Oden and Richards-Kortum said the new QECH nursery will provide excellent care for newborns and serve as an innovation hub for the design, evaluation and implementation of Rice 360°'s Day One Project, an ambitious $375,000 effort to improve the lives of newborns in the developing world from the day they are born. Through the Day One Project, Rice 360° aims to create a collection of low-cost, neonatal technologies that a district hospital serving 250,000 people can implement for about $5,000.

    "Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden have applied outstanding research and motivated our innovative students to use simple technology to improve health care in the world's poorest regions," said Rice President David Leebron. "As teachers, they have challenged their students to become leaders who use their skills in the service of others and betterment of our world, in this case saving babies' lives, and that is a fundamental part of Rice's mission."

    Richards-Kortum, the Stanley C. Moore Professor and chair of Rice's Department of Bioengineering, also directs Rice 360°. Oden, professor in the practice of bioengineering and director of Rice's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, coordinates the technical design efforts of BTB students.

    BTB students work in teams to design technologies that address health care challenges identified by clinicians in the developing world. Each summer, about a dozen Rice students take the year's most promising BTB designs to Africa and Latin America for evaluation under the guidance of physicians and nurses in clinics and hospitals. More than 90 percent of BTB summer interns plan to incorporate global health activities into their careers after graduation.

    The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding innovators and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention. The program recognized Richards-Kortum and Oden for several BTB technologies, including Rice's "bubble CPAP" system, or bCPAP, a respiratory support system for newborns that uses low-cost aquarium pumps to generate "continuous positive airway pressure" (CPAP).

    CPAP technology helps keep a child's lungs inflated and makes it easier for them to breath. The technology, which is particularly beneficial for premature newborns with immature lungs and for infants who are fighting severe respiratory infections, is widely available in the developed world, but the machines there cost about $6,000 and are too expensive for most developing world hospitals.

    Doctors at QECH challenged Rice's BTB students to come up with a lower-cost alternative, and they created bCPAP, a $400 system that delivers the same therapeutic flow and pressure as systems used in the developed world. BTB evaluated the device at QECH in a clinical trial funded by Saving Lives at Birth, a joint program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Norwegian government, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada and the World Bank. The clinical trial found that bCPAP greatly improved the survival rates for premature babies. BTB is now working with Malawi's Ministry of Health to implement Rice's system in all of the country's hospitals.   

    Richards-Kortum and Oden said the Day One project is designed to replicate the success of bCPAP. Day One uses the methods pioneered in the bCPAP project to refine, implement and evaluate other neonatal technologies developed at Rice that will address the primary causes of infant mortality.

    "We are accepting the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation on behalf of all of the people at Rice, the Texas Medical Center and around the world who have helped to make BTB's work possible," Oden said. "Our decision to donate the prize money to QECH is a way to recognize the efforts of our students and collaborators, while ensuring that more life-saving technologies like bCPAP will be used to improve neonatal care in the developing world."

    Other BTB innovations recognized by the Lemelson-MIT Program include:


    • DoseRight Syringe Clips, which improve dosing accuracy in the delivery of AIDS-fighting drugs that must be delivered in precise quantities to prevent the transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their babies. The clips are being used in Swaziland, Africa.
    • A low-cost fluorescence microscope that uses a battery-powered LED flashlight. The Global Focus Microscope can be manufactured for about one-10th the cost of a conventional fluorescence microscope. Some 20 prototypes of the device are in field tests worldwide.


    "What is striking about these great professors is their vision that undergraduates can develop robust, inexpensive, technical solutions to solve real problems, and that the students can go to places like Malawi, deploy their prototypes and make the necessary modifications and improvements to deliver sustainable, practical, working devices," said Ned Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Rice's George R. Brown School of Engineering.

    The Lemelson-MIT Program and its awards are named for Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history's most prolific inventors. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy, founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994.

    "By introducing their undergraduate students to the health care challenges that exist in low-resource areas, and training those students in the invention process both inside and outside of the classroom, Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden have created a group of young inventors who are developing solutions that save lives," said Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. "The Lemelson-MIT Program's award winners are chosen based on their own technological inventiveness and their ability to inspire the next generation of inventors. With several inventions in the field and many of the Beyond Traditional Borders students going on to include technology and global health as a focus of their careers, Rebecca and Maria are outstanding award winners and role models."

  • Tue, April 30, 2013 11:18 AM | Rice 360° (Administrator)

    VitaLink monitors infants from afar

    Rice University students join forces on baby-saving device for developing nations 

    HOUSTON – (April 30, 2013) – The ideal system for monitoring a baby’s health would be as simple as one, two, three. Three teams of senior engineering students at Rice University are working to do so wirelessly in neonatal wards in the developing world.

    The design teams have built a modular system to monitor an infant’s vital signs with a tablet that can track the progress – or warn of problems – for many babies at once.

    The VitaLink system keeps tabs on infants’ breathing, heart rate and body temperature. The system is designed to match the capabilities of nurseries in the developed world but at a cost more realistic to clinics in developing countries where the need is greatest.

    Gary Woods, a professor in the practice of computer technology and electrical and computer engineering and one of the team’s advisers, went to Africa last summer to see how his students could contribute to infant care at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. The hospital has partnered with the Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health Technologies to develop cost-effective systems. At Queen Elizabeth’s neonatal nursery, a very small staff must care for dozens of babies with no way to monitor a crowded ward all at once.

    “I came away with a pretty good idea of what it would take to make this project,” Woods said. He pitched the idea to his senior students last fall. “There were so many interested that we formed three teams,” he said. “Their goal has been to build a system that has a little battery-powered dongle that can record the vital signs of a baby and wirelessly transmit them to a central tablet,” he said.

    The three projects and their team members are the iNurse (the BioLink team of Nathan Lo, Abhijit Navlekar, Rahul Rekhi, Fabio Ussher and Eric Palmgren), VitaSign (Gbenga Badipe, Adrian Galindo, Alison Hightman, James Kerwin and John Slack) and the Scalable Wireless Alert Generator, aka SWAG (Yuqiang Mu, Chris Metzler, Kiran Pathakota and Matt Johnson). Each team built a component that contains the necessary electronics and can be linked together at the side of the crib to gather and deliver information.

    The iNurse monitors temperature and respiration. The VitaSign adds a low-cost, low-power heart-rate sensor. Both alert caregivers if they sense trouble.

    SWAG is where the information comes together. The iNurse and VitaSign are hooked to the SWAG “brick,” which sends data over the air to an Android tablet. The students designed a custom app to give caregivers an up-to-the-minute picture of multiple infants’ health. With its current Bluetooth implementation, the system can monitor several babies, but an upcoming revision to Bluetooth 4 would allow for many more.

    Putting 14 students on a project is highly unusual at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), which typically sees teams of three, four or five toiling away on a given task.

    “It was like a startup environment where you have different sub-teams working on one larger project,” Rekhi said. “It put more on us to be able to coordinate and ensure that our individual devices and departments could communicate. But it did feel like an entrepreneurial endeavor.”

    One member of the SWAG team, Johnson, will demonstrate the system in Ethiopia on behalf of Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) this summer. “Another team will go to Malawi, so our project will potentially be going to both places,” he said. Johnson said he hopes to come back at the end of the summer “with a lot of good data, and next year we’ll have something really awesome.”

    Before it goes to Africa (and before they graduate next month), the students want to make the system robust enough to handle inconsistent power feeds. “Power is constantly in flux at Queen Elizabeth,” said Rekhi, a bioengineering major who worked there as a BTB intern last summer. “We want the battery backup to be able to handle the system in case of a power outage.” The team’s goal is to run the system for months on end on double-A batteries.

    They expect future design teams to enhance VitaLink. “By the end of our design cycle, I think we’ve actually done enough hardware implementation that we can hand it off and tell the next team they don’t have to worry about hardware any more,” said Pathakota, an electrical engineering student. “All they need to do is write really good software for it.”

    “It needs to be really simple and understand the entire ward,” added Metzler, who also studies electrical engineering. “It needs to be clear to the nurse how each baby is doing.”

    Maria Oden, director of the OEDK and a professor in the practice of engineering, and Ashu Sabharwal, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, also advised the teams.

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