Nutriflow delivers fat to preemies

by Patrick Kurp
Nutriflow delivers fat to preemies
Nutriflow assures the flow of all of the nutrients in mothers' milk to premature infants by flapping the bag containing the milk to keep it mixed and flowing to ensure nutrients don't attach to the bag or tube. Credit: Jeff Fitlow

(Medical Xpress)—Fat, the bane of many an adult, is precisely what babies born prematurely need to gain weight and grow strong and healthy. Some students at Rice University have invented a device to ensure preemies get enough fat, which has been a challenge.

Babies born more than five or six weeks before their due dates are unable to feed from a bottle or breast because they cannot coordinate sucking, breathing and swallowing. They must be tube-fed milk, but that too presents problems: Some 20 to 50 percent of the in mother's milk clings to the tubing and never reaches the child. Also lost are essential nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, that bind to the .

"Fat is essential for preemies, but it's always been a problem getting it to them," said Mika Tabata, a senior bioengineering student and a member of the design team Nutriflow at Rice. "Our task was to figure out a way to increase the amount of fat they receive, which has been difficult."

Other team members are Alexa Juarez, Denizen Kocak and Nathan Liu, also senior bioengineering students, and Jane Jarjour, a senior majoring in biochemistry and cell biology.

Tabata first encountered the problem in 2013 while serving as a summer medical and research training intern at Baylor College of Medicine. There she worked with Steven Abrams, who researches the absorption and metabolism of dietary minerals in infants and children.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

"We started out just using a stir-bar to mix the fat into the milk," Liu said. "That showed a little improvement but not enough. We tried a sort of blender arrangement, but that stirred the milk too much. It was like churning butter."

Nutriflow delivers fat to preemies
Nutriflow assures the flow of all of the nutrients in mothers' milk to premature infants by flapping the bag containing the milk to keep it mixed and flowing to ensure nutrients don't attach to the bag or tube. Credit: Jeff Fitlow

The breakthrough came when the team realized breast milk had to be mixed both in the feeding bag and the tubing. They devised a motorized panel programmed to give the plastic sack holding the milk three quick flips once every three minutes, the optimal rate for mixing. After repeated fine-tunings, calibrating the pump and the hinge, the team was able to assure that 95 percent of the fat in the could reach the child.

"We couldn't believe it. After hours of hard work and going over the design, we finally hit the sweet spot," Liu said.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Humans can use smell to detect levels of dietary fat

Jan 22, 2014

New research from the Monell Center reveals humans can use the sense of smell to detect dietary fat in food. As food smell almost always is detected before taste, the findings identify one of the first sensory qualities that ...

Changing cows' diet could help tackle heart disease

Apr 16, 2014

Adding oilseed to a cow's diet can significantly reduce the harmful saturated fat found in its milk without compromising the white stuff's nutritional benefits, according to research by the University of ...

Recommended for you

Brain abnormality found in group of SIDS cases

7 hours ago

More than 40 percent of infants in a group who died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) were found to have an abnormality in a key part of the brain, researchers report. The abnormality affects the hippocampus, ...

Eczema cases rising among US children

22 hours ago

(HealthDay)—A growing number of children are being diagnosed with the allergic skin condition eczema—but it can usually be eased with topical treatments, according to a new report.

Adult-sized ATVs deadly for kids, report shows

23 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Santa might think twice about giving kids an all-terrain vehicle this year. Riding ATVs poses high risks of injury or death for children and teens, with dangers differing by age, a new U.S. ...

Mutant protein takes babies' breath away

Nov 24, 2014

Babies start breathing in the womb, inhaling and exhaling irregularly at first, and then gradually more and more, until the day when they're born and have to do it all the time. But premature babies sometimes ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.