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Seattle Children's, PATH, and the UW School of Dentistry nominated for $250,000 award to fund research and development of lifesaving device for infants who can't nurse

September 17, 2015 by PATH

The Neonatal Intuitive Feeding TechnologY (NIFTY cup) has the potential to save or improve the lives of millions of infants in low-resource settings who are unable to breastfeed

Media contacts: PATH, Claire Hudson, or 206-302-4521
Seattle Children's Public Relations, or 206-987-4500
UW School of Dentistry, Steve Steinberg, or 206-616-0827.

SEATTLE, September 17 — Seattle Children's, PATH, and the University of Washington School of Dentistry announced today that they were recently nominated for a $250,000 validation award from Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development — a partnership of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the U.K.'s Department for International Development (DFID), and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) — to fund research and development of the Neonatal Intuitive Feeding TechnologY (NIFTY cup). The NIFTY cup is designed to facilitate feeding and prevent starvation in infants in developing countries who are unable to breastfeed.

"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," said Dr. Christy McKinney, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington who spearheaded the project and was instrumental in designing the NIFTY cup. "It's astounding that this simple feeding tool has the potential to have such a profound global impact."

Each year, approximately nine million babies born in Africa and South Asia have difficulties breastfeeding because they are either premature, have craniofacial anomalies like cleft lip and palate, or are born to mothers who die of birth-related causes, putting these infants at risk of dying from starvation. The World Health Organization recommends the use of a small cup to feed these newborns in low-resource settings, but there is no standard feeding tool in existence.

PATH's multidisciplinary team of product development, public health, and commercialization experts collaborated with epidemiological, dental and medical experts at Seattle Children's and the UW School of Dentistry, Department of Oral Health Sciences, to create the NIFTY cup, a low-cost, safe and easy-to-use feeding cup that aims to solve this problem with a design that mimics breastfeeding. Dr. Patricia Coffey, leader of the Health Technologies for Women and Children group at PATH, will co-lead the effort with McKinney.

"Our collaborative team has worked tirelessly with modest funding for the last five years to realize this vision, so it is wonderful to have the NIFTY cup recognized in this way," said Coffey. "We are confident that we have a great team in place to move the product through validation as quickly as possible and into the hands of those who need it."

Key features of the NIFTY cup include:

  • Extended reservoir off the lip of the cup that holds a small bowl of milk, ensuring efficient delivery of milk that mimics traditional breastfeeding where the infant is able to pace feeding.
  • Mothers can directly express breastmilk into the 60-ml cup, reducing possible cross-contamination from other containers.
  • Made of a durable, soft silicone material that protects the infant's mouth from injury.
  • Embossed measurements help track volume and intake of milk.
  • Ergonomically designed for frequent use and to enhance finger and wrist control over milk flow.
  • Quick-drying, UV-resistant, affordable silicone that can be boiled for sterilization.

Dr. Michael Cunningham, medical director of Seattle Children's Craniofacial Center and an investigator with Seattle Children's Research Institute's Center for Developmental and Regenerative Medicine, helped spark the collaboration with McKinney after seeing the need for a solution first-hand in Africa during a trip with Partners in African Cleft Training (PACT), which he co-founded.

"We were devastated to learn that newborns with clefts were starving to death because they were unable to properly feed," said Cunningham. "We just knew that there had to be a simple intervention that could be life-changing for this population which led to our quest to develop the perfect feeding tool."

After McKinney, Cunningham and the team at PATH developed the first prototype of the NIFTY cup, McKinney evaluated its design in South India with infants that had clefts or were born premature. She said the feedback was resoundingly positive. The feedback the team received also helped refine the cup's design, which will be completed at the PATH product development shop.

"It was quite dramatic to see how much easier it was for infants to feed when the NIFTY cup was introduced," said McKinney. "There was a lot of interest as to when this cup could become widely disseminated."

The Saving Lives at Birth partnership funding will support the team's work to generate a base of evidence by validating the NIFTY cup through a study conducted at a hospital in Ethiopia, shape the sub-Saharan Africa market by identifying a commercialization partner, and develop a market strategy and global advocacy plan.

About Seattle Children's

Seattle Children's Hospital, Foundation and Research Institute together deliver superior patient care, advance new discoveries and treatments through pediatric research, and serve as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical referral center for Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho — the largest region of any children's hospital in the country.

Consistently ranked as one of the best children's hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children's Hospital specializes in meeting the unique physical, emotional and developmental needs of children from infancy through young adulthood. For more than 100 years, the hospital has been dedicated to providing top-quality care to every child in who needs it, regardless of the family's ability to pay.

Seattle Children's Hospital and Research Foundation gathers community support and raises funds for Seattle Children's Hospital and Seattle Children's Research Institute.

Located in downtown Seattle's biotech corridor, Seattle Children's Research Institute is pushing the boundaries of medical research to find cures for pediatric diseases and improve outcomes for children all over the world. Internationally recognized investigators and staff at the research institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention and bioethics, among others. For more information, visit For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

About the University of Washington School of Dentistry

The University of Washington School of Dentistry, the state's only dental school, is a worldwide leader in dental education and research. The school furnishes comprehensive clinical care and also plays a major role in public health through its service to people with disabilities and efforts to improve access to care for underserved communities.

About Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development

Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development is a global call for groundbreaking, scalable solutions to infant and maternal mortality around the time of birth. It aims to address the 287,000 maternal deaths, 2.9 million neo-natal deaths, and 2.6 million stillbirths that occur each year around the world. To learn more about Saving Lives at Birth and its five rounds of innovators working in maternal and newborn health, go to:

This award is made possible through the generous support of the Saving Lives at Birth partners: the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the U.K.'s Department for International Development (DFID), and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). This release was prepared by PATH and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Saving Lives at Birth partners.

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