Rice University today unveiled plans for a $100 million initiative to create an institute to develop technologies to combat pressing health problems in the developing world, such as HIV/AIDS and child mortality. The initiative was announced today during the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York.
Called “Rice 360°: Technology Solutions for World Health,” the initiative will focus on both research and education, with the goal of establishing an institute that will create, test and disseminate new technologies and educational programs that help achieve the United Nation’s health-related Millennium Development Goals. These include halting and reducing the spread of HIV, slashing the mortality rate of children under 5 by two-thirds, and reducing the number of women who die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
“Studies estimate that nearly 10 million children under age 5 die each year in developing countries because they do not have access to appropriate health technologies — technologies that we often take for granted here,” said Rebecca Richards-Kortum, who is stepping down as Bioengineering Department Chair at the end of the academic year to spearhead the Rice 360° initiative. “Rice’s strong commitment to its undergraduates is one of our unique strengths. Rice 360° will capitalize on this commitment by blending engineering, education, and service in a way that ignites students’ imaginations to change their lives and the lives of the world’s most needy patients.”
Rice 360° is designed to tap students’ and faculty members’ creativity, and their desire to make a difference, serve others and save lives. It builds on Rice’s successful Beyond Traditional Borders initiative (BTB) in which students learn about global health issues and design technologies in response to problems doctors face in the developing world. BTB is supported by a grant to Rice from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Undergraduate Science Education Program. Last summer, seven undergraduates took their technologies and educational programs to Africa for real-world testing and implementation in clinics run by the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative.
Kim Bennett, a senior who interned this summer in Malawi, was on a team that designed a pump to accurately dispense liquid medication according to a child’s individual needs. Called the “ABC pump,” the device aims to eliminate human error associated with current syringe and medicine cup techniques.
“I brought the ABC Pump to Malawi to show it to the doctors in the clinic where I was working,” Bennett said. “It met with rave reviews. One doctor wanted to know when it would be available in Malawi.”
A Rice student team enrolled in this fall’s class is already working on developing a battery-powered IV drip monitor that can warn nurses and doctors in time to prevent pediatric deaths. Hospitals are reluctant to use life-saving fluids now because they are unable to control the volumes given to patients.
Sophie Kim and Christina Lagos, two Rice undergraduates who interned this summer in Lesotho, taught a health and HIV-awareness class of their own design in an orphanage, and worked with social workers and doctors at a clinic to revamp the counseling program that teaches HIV patients and their caregivers how to take antiretroviral medications.
“Our goal was to make adherence counseling much more educational by teaching the concepts of drug resistance, how antiretroviral therapy works and the importance of strict drug adherence,” Kim said.
Kim and Lagos trained about 40 volunteer counselors to ensure that the program would continue long after they left.
“Seeing what I saw — the kids that were dying and their families — you cannot be complacent after that,” Kim said. “I always knew I wanted to go to medical school and work toward ending health disparities, but it really put a fire in me, particularly in the arena of health policy. I’m very determined to get involved in public policy and health policy now.”
The Rice 360° initiative was presented today at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York. The meeting brings together a diverse group of approximately 1,000 world leaders to examine today’s most pressing global challenges and transform that awareness into tangible commitments to action. Rice 360° was represented by Richards-Kortum, Kim and Neal Lane, senior fellow in science and technology at the Baker Institute for Public Policy and a former White House science advisor under President Clinton.
“Rice has all the elements to make a difference in solving urgent global health problems,” said Rice President David Leebron. “Our brilliant and gifted students are an enormous asset to Rice 360°. The university’s bioengineering and nanotechnology programs are among the world’s best. We have strong and growing ties with the world’s largest medical center, and Rice’s Baker Institute is home to world-class experts in public policy and global science policy. Another advantage is provided by Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Management, which has a wealth of expertise in entrepreneurship and microfinance.”
Rice has committed to securing $100 million from a variety of sources over the coming decade to fund the institute’s programs. Rice 360° has already received $2 million in funding, including a gift to seed research in cost-effective health technologies from Rice Board of Trustees Chairman Jim Crownover and his wife, Molly.