Johns Hopkins Students Win Save a Life Maternal Health Challenge

PHOTO: antenatal screening kit
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Three graduate students from Johns Hopkins School of Engineering in Baltimore have made their mark with a revolutionary design: a pen-sized device that can help screen pregnant women and newborns in developing countries for potentially life-threatening conditions such as gestational diabetes and anemia. And it costs less than half a cent per test.

The Johns Hopkins team, led by graduate students Sean Monagle, Maxim Budyansky and Matthew Means, are the winners of the 2011 "Be the Change: Save a Life Maternal Health Challenge," which was launched by ABC News in partnership with the Duke Global Health Institute and the Lemelson Foundation.

Selected from more than 65 video entries submitted by university students internationally, the winning team will be awarded a grand prize of $10,000, as well receive mentoring and support from the Lemelson Foundation, which provides college inventors with seed capital to develop, refine and take their inventions to market.

Find out how to make a difference for mothers and babies around the world with the Million Moms Challenge.

The students will also present their idea in November before global health experts at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health Conference.

"We've been working really hard on this health kit for a long time now ... and this money is going to help us achieve our goals," team leader Sean Monagle said in an interview with ABC News Chief Health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. Monagle and his team spent months field-testing the device in Nepal.

Saving a Life With the Stroke of Pen

Ninety-nine percent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries and 90 percent of the deaths can be prevented with simple interventions. The team's antenatal screening kit is the first of its kind.

Working closely with Jhpiego, a leading non-governmental organization in maternal and child health, the Johns Hopkins students developed a device that allows community health workers in rural areas of developing countries to deliver crucial screening tests through a unique delivery mechanism: a pen.

Health Care workers that travel village to village can use the pen to mark a strip of filter paper and give it to a pregnant woman. The patient can then urinate directly on the strip (similar to a pregnancy test) and a color change indicates a positive test result for the condition being screened. The technology can detect life-threatening conditions early and essentially prevent millions of unnecessary deaths each year.

The new device provides different pens for various conditions, among them gestational diabetes, malnutrition, urinary tract infection, anemia and neonatal jaundice. It will also screen for conditions such as pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, which alone causes 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths per year. Each test will cost half a cent, compared to screening methods that cost about 20 cents per test; far too expensive for use in rural areas of developing countries

"Sean Monagle and the team from Johns Hopkins did an outstanding job," Besser said after notifying them of the award. "When it comes to global health, cost is an enormous barrier to care. The antenatal screening test is an incredibly innovative approach to saving the lives of pregnant women."

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