UW School of Dentistry

Dentistry researcher, partners win support for lifesaving infant cup

A global infant-health initiative led by School of Dentistry researcher Dr. Christy McKinney has been nominated for a $250,000 award from a consortium that includes the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The NIFTY™ cup could benefit millions of infants in the developing world who cannot breastfeed.

Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development nominated Dr. McKinney and her collaborators for the award to fund research and development of the Neonatal Intuitive Feeding Technology (NIFTY™) cup. The cup makes it easier to feed and prevent starvation among millions of infants in developing countries who cannot breastfeed. Some have physical anomalies such as cleft lip and palate, while others face a higher risk of starvation after being born to mothers who die of childbirth-related causes.

“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. McKinney, a clinical assistant professor at the School of Dentistry who 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.”

The low-cost, 60-ml cup has several distinct advantages:

  • An extended reservoir off its lip that holds a small bowl of milk, letting the infant pace its own feeding.
  • Mothers can directly express their breastmilk into the cup, reducing possible cross-contamination from other containers.
  • The ergonomically designed cup is made of a durable, soft silicone material that protects the infant’s mouth from injury and can be boiled for sterilization. It dries quickly and is UV-resistant as well.
  • Embossed measurements help track volume and intake of milk.
Dr. Christy McKinney
Dr. Christy McKinney

Dr. McKinney’s collaborators included Dr. Michael Cunningham, medical director of Seattle Children’s hospital Craniofacial Center and an investigator with Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Center for Developmental and Regenerative Medicine, as well as PATH, a Seattle-based international non-profit organization that forges partnerships to improve global health, especially among women and children.

After Dr. McKinney, Dr. Cunningham and PATH developed a NIFTY™ cup prototype, Dr. McKinney tested it in South India. The team is now using the feedback to refine the cup’s design at the PATH product development shop.

They plan to use the Saving Lives at Birth funding to conduct further studies in Ethiopia and then secure a commercial partner and develop a market strategy and global advocacy plan.

Along with USAID and the Gates Foundation, other members of the Saving Lives at Birth partnership include the Norwegian government, Grand Challenges Canada, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, and the Korea International Cooperation Agency.