A student-developed device to help premature infants at risk from apnea has won a seed grant for further development, reports Rice University.

The Rice 360?: Institute for Global Health Technologies has won a grant to continue development of a device invented by Rice students to help premature infants at risk from apnea, a breathing condition that can cause cognitive damage or death if not treated.

The BreathAlert device, originally designed in 2012 by engineering students as their senior capstone project, will be evaluated and optimized to detect and correct episodes of apnea in low-resource settings where traditional vital-signs monitoring is not available.

This work is part of an ongoing collaboration with pediatricians at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, who identified the critical need for low-cost monitoring tools and have provided clinical guidance on the project, said Maria Oden, director of Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and a professor in the practice of engineering education.

Rice won one of 26 seed grants awarded last week by Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development, a partnership of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development.

Maria Oden pitched the project at the organization’s annual DevelopmentXChange in Washington, D.C., on July 30. “We’re so excited,” she said of the award. “This will allow us to finalize the design and complete an initial clinical evaluation of BreathAlert.”

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