Christine O’Brien, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, and her team have received a $20,000 prize from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Technology for Maternal Health Challenge.
The prize is the first step in the challenge that will ultimately award $8 million in total prizes to inventors who are developing home-based and point-of-care maternal health diagnostic devices, wearables or other technologies designed to reduce maternal complications and death in those who live where maternity care is limited. The program seeks technologies intended to be used by the postpartum individual, caregivers or health care providers for the first year after giving birth. In the first round of the challenge, 15 inventor teams won $20,000 each. In the phased competition, ultimately, up to six inventor teams will advance, and if selected as finalists, they will receive collectively more than $850,000 each.
The team has developed a light-based, wrist-worn device designed to monitor and detect severe bleeding, or hemorrhage, after giving birth, which can happen in minutes, hours or days after birth. Postpartum hemorrhage is the leading cause of preventable maternal death worldwide and accounts for about 10% of preventable maternal deaths in the United States.
O’Brien and her team have co-founded a startup company, Armor Medical Inc., to further develop and commercialize the device. The university’s Office of Technology Management has applied for a patent on the technology.
In July, O’Brien and her team were recognized as Honorable Mention Awardees in another competition, the National Institutes of Health Technology Accelerator Challenge (NTAC) for Maternal Health.
With support from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, O’Brien develops translational optical technologies that can improve women’s health care. Her lab develops optical tools that tackle important challenges spanning maternal health, reproductive cancers and women’s global health, using optical spectroscopy, optical imaging and simulation techniques that can be translated to impact patient care.