CHOC clinicians pitch ideas for new medical devices to UCI students

In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at CHOC, most pre-term babies are not able to take all their food through a bottle until they’re closer to term. They also must rely on a tube connected to a feeding pump.

In hospitals that have a centralized room where technicians prepare feedings for the nurse, the feeding is often delivered pre-drawn up in a syringe since it is unknown if all of the feeding will be given via the tube or if the baby will be able to take some by mouth.

If the baby is alert enough to eat by mouth, the nurse would need to transfer some of the feeding from the syringe to a bottle. If the baby did not take the full volume in the bottle, the nurse would need to draw any remaining milk back into the syringe to be able to deliver it via a tube.

Because of all these steps, there’s a risk of contamination, misadministration (giving the wrong milk to the wrong baby) and a loss of nutrients caused by milk adhering to the side of the containers.

Wouldn’t it be great to create a device that could solve those concerns and make feeding premature infants safer and more efficient?

That was the concept presented by Michelle Roberts, a registered nurse and lactation consultant, to UCI biomedical engineering graduates at the annual UCI BioENGINE Reverse Project Pitch Night.

Undergraduates students in the BioENGINE Program (Bioengineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship) obtain hands-on experience in the technical and business development aspects of biomedical engineering as they work in teams to further develop med-tech startups into marketable products.

Roberts was among several CHOC associates who gave two-minute presentations at the Fall 2020 Reverse Project Pitch Night, held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kicking off the 90-minute session, which featured some 30 presenters, was Dr. Terence Sanger, a physician, engineer and computational neuroscientist who joined CHOC in January 2020 as its vice president of research and first chief scientific officer.

BioENGINE partners with the UCI School of Medicine, the Henry Samueli School of Engineering, the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, the Beckman Laser Institute, UCI Athletics and UCI Applied Innovation. 

At Reverse Project Pitch Night, physicians, scientists, clinicians and industry representatives describe their concepts for new medical devices. Students are matched with projects that interest them and are mentored by the presenters to help develop healthcare solutions.

“Physicians and engineers need to work together,” said Dr. Sanger, a child neurologist who specializes in movement disorders. “The goal is to identify an important problem, marry it to a piece of technology, and create a device in a way that will have an impact. Different knowledges have to be brought together, and personally I find that very inspiring.”

In the final quarter of 2020, the CHOC Research Institute sponsored three pediatric-focused projects that were presented at Reverse Project Pitch Night.

One software project, presented by Sira Medical, involves the use of patient-specific, high fidelity 3D holograms to enable surgeons to better understand complicated anatomy, collaboratively plan an operation, and virtually size medical implants — all before stepping into the operating room.

Another project, presented by Adventure BioFeedback, is designed to deliver speech therapy anywhere, anytime. The company is producing a series of audio linguistic tools that can analyze and learn on-the-fly from the utterances of children performing vocal exercises using a smartphone. 

The third CHOC Research Institute-sponsored project, NeuroDetect, places a patient’s own stem cells on a computer chip to replicate the brain chemistry of the neurological disorder in a laboratory environment and facilitate rapid development of precision-guided therapeutics.  

Roberts offered to serve as a mentor on her project along with Caroline Steele, director of Clinical Nutrition and Lactation Services at CHOC. Edwards Lifesciences is involved in designing the device.

Kaitlin Hipp, another CHOC NICU nurse, introduced her project, Touche, at BioENGINE Reverse Project Pitch Night. It’s a hands-free communications system for nurses and healthcare workers that is especially relevant in the era of COVID-19. The Bluetooth device can communicate with several devices – phones, monitors, etc. — thereby reducing or eliminating the need for nurses to touch the surfaces of items.

“We need to be better about using touchless technology in the healthcare setting,” Hipp said. “Long term, think of this as Alexa for healthcare providers.”

Dr. Timothy Flannery, a pediatric endocrinologist at CHOC, introduced Cervos, a non-invasive device to address cervical incompetence, which affects 1 percent of all pregnancies. The goal is to get Cervos approved for clinical trials at medical schools, Dr. Flannery said.

Dr. Sanger, in his remarks, noted CHOC’s critical mission of ramping up research to better address unmet healthcare needs by marrying engineering with healthcare.

“Medicine is about decision making,” Dr. Sanger said. “Biology is so complicated we can’t hope to ever understand it fully. When you want to make decisions in healthcare, you need to take measurements and design interventions that will respond to those measurements. In medicine, the goal is always to make the next big decision. You don’t even need to know the diagnosis if you can make the right decisions.”

Infant and Pediatric Feedings Book Receives Hermes Platinum Award

Caroline Steele, CHOC’s director of the Clinical Nutrition and Lactation Services Department, recently announced the book she co-authored with registered dietitian Katherine Bennett received a 2019 Hermes Creative Award. The book, Infant and Pediatric Feedings: Guidelines for Preparation of Human Milk and Formula in Health Care Facilities (third edition), was given Platinum award status—the highest distinction given by the group for excellence in concept, writing and design. We chatted with Caroline about the honor and about what makes this new edition of the book such a valuable read for providers.

Caroline Steele, MS, RD, CSP, IBCLC, FAND
Caroline Steele, MS, RD, CSP, IBCLC, FAND

Q: What inspired you to co-author a book on the topic of milk and formula preparation guidelines in healthcare facilities? 

A: Over the past 20 years, I have conducted and published many research studies specifically looking at patient safety and outcomes related to centralized handling of human milk and formula within the hospital setting. I was an author on the second edition of this publication. Therefore, when the opportunity arose to be the co-editor and author on the third edition, I jumped at it!

Katherine Bennett, Clinical Dietitian
Katherine Bennett, Clinical Dietitian

Q: What are some important themes providers can expect to learn about in the book? 

A: There are really three predominant themes in the publication. First is that the location of infant/pediatric feeding preparation is critical to prevent contamination. Second, use of dedicated technicians improves safety and accuracy. Third, the use of technology can reduce risk of human error during both preparation of feedings and administering feedings to the patient.

Q: Can you hint at some of the new research topics covered in the third edition?

A: In this edition, we included new chapters on lactoengineering and the use of blenderized tube feedings. We also provided expanded information on use of donor human milk and milk products as well as modular enteral ingredients.

Q: How does it feel to be recognized with this award? 

A: This award was a great honor and one outside my normal realm of nutrition! The award is granted as platinum, gold or honorable mention. We are thrilled that we received a platinum award, meaning that our book scored 90 to 100 on a scale of 100!

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to highlight about the book?

A: Infant and Pediatric Feedings is the most comprehensive resource for all things related to feeding preparation. I use my own copy all the time!

Q: How can people order a physical or digital copy?

A: This may be purchased from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Eat Right Store website.