Bulletin of Dental Education

UW School of Dentistry Research Aids Creation of Lifesaving Infant Feeding Cup

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University of Washington LogoA global infant-health initiative, with University of Washington School of Dentistry (UW SOD) research playing a prominent role, has been hailed for its potential to save or improve the health of millions of young lives in the developing world.

Christy McKinney, Ph.D., M.P.H., who was then a member of WU SOD’s Department of Oral Health Sciences faculty, worked with collaborators at PATH, a global health nonprofit organization, and Seattle Children’s Hospital to develop the Neonatal Intuitive Feeding Technology (NIFTY™) cup. The cup makes it easier to feed and prevent starvation among millions of infants in developing countries who cannot breastfeed. Some have physical anomalies such as cleft lip and palate, while others face a higher risk of starvation after being born to mothers who die of childbirth-related causes.

The low-cost, 40-milliliter cup has several distinct advantages:

  • An extended reservoir off its lip that holds a small bowl of milk, letting the infant pace its own feeding.
  • Mothers can directly express their breastmilk into the cup, reducing possible cross-contamination from other containers.
  • The ergonomically designed cup is made of a durable, soft silicone material that protects the infant’s mouth from injury and can be boiled for sterilization. It dries quickly and is UV-resistant as well.
  • Embossed measurements help track volume and intake of milk.
“Christine McKinney, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Christine McKinney, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Dr. McKinney worked to develop the cup with Michael Cunningham, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Director of the Seattle Children’s Hospital Craniofacial Center and an investigator with Seattle Children’s Research Institute. They also collaborated with Patricia Coffey, Ph.D., M.P.H., at PATH, a Seattle-based organization that forges partnerships to improve global health, especially among women and children.

In May, the project team announced a partnership with Laerdal Global Health, a Norwegian nonprofit manufacturer, to put the cups in the hands of hospital workers in Africa this year. The cups will cost about $1.

After a prototype was developed, Dr. McKinney tested it with partners at Sri Ramanchandra University in South India, then used the feedback to refine the design at the PATH product development shop.

The project has received a $250,000 award to validate the technology from Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development. It is a consortium that includes the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

“It’s incredibly gratifying to be nominated for this award that will help fund the crucial next step in our five-year journey to bring this lifesaving tool to the infants who need it,” says Dr. McKinney, who is now Associate Professor of Craniofacial Medicine in UW Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, as well as an Investigator at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “It’s astounding that this simple feeding tool has the potential to have such a profound global impact.”

Along with USAID and the Gates Foundation, other members of the Saving Lives at Birth partnership include the Norwegian government, Grand Challenges Canada, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development and the Korea International Cooperation Agency.

In June, the Seattle Times editorial board proposed that the project be considered for a Nobel Prize. “The NIFTY cup is a life-sustaining invention for vulnerable newborns and desperate mothers that is the product of professional skills and experience, and deep care and concern,” the newspaper wrote.

Courtesy of Steve Steinberg, Director of Communications, University of Washington School of Dentistry

Published on September 14, 2016. 

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