A simple design for a new type of intravenous drip for use with children that took a team of student from Rice University, Houston, TX, two years to evolve took the top prize in the National Institutes of Health’s Biomedical Undergraduate Teams competition. The award-winning IV DRIP (Dehydration Relief in Pediatrics) won in the category of technology to aid underserved populations. The student team received the $10,000 prize at the annual meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society at the end of September.

Fig. 1 – A simple mechanical fluid regulator designed by students at Rice University has the potential to save lives. The device uses a lever with a movable counterweight. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow)

The goal of the project was to regulate the amount of fluid delivered to children in order to prevent overhydration as well as dehydration. It’s designed to be used in developing countries, where conditions are more primitive and where there may not even be electricity.

Physicians working in Africa sparked the innovative design through discussions with professors from Rice who travelled there seeking real-world challenges for students in the university’s Beyond Traditional Borders program.

One of the things that was needed came directly from physicians who told them that they’d like a device to regulate IV-fluid delivery to children, who are often connected to adult IV bags.

The original design incorporated a spring-loaded mousetrap. Students transported two prototypes to Malawi and Lesotho to evaluate them under field conditions. Malawi, in southeastern Africa, is among the least-developed countries in the world, with a high infant mortality rate and a life expectancy of about 50 years. Some 760,000 children in developing countries die annually of dehydration.

The device is a mechanical, simple-to-operate volume regulator that uses a lever arm with a movable counterweight similar to a physician’s scale to incrementally dispense IV fluid. It uses the change in torque as the IV bag is drained to set off the spring that clamps the IV tube and stops the flow of saline solution or other prescribed fluids. Tests show the device dispenses fluid within 14 milliliters of the desired volume in increments of 50 milliliters.

Field-testing resulted in two significant changes in design. First, the original mousetrap clamp was replaced by a safer, easier-to-use spring-loaded mechanism and equipped with two knobs to load it. Second, the working mechanism was lowered to permit easier access for short-statured health care workers.

With the aid of several grants, the team incorporated the changes into the device and created a third-generation prototype that costs about $80 to manufacture. In contrast, typical infusion pumps that regulate the maximum volume of fluids in an IV cost between $1,000 and $3,500.