All-Black Parenting, Healthy Teeth Family Activity Box and New Breathing Tube Wins Top Prizes at Pitt Innovation Challenge 2021


Difficult health problems often call for bold and innovative solutions. Thanks to Pitt Innovation Challenge (PInCh), a diverse group of innovators now have funding to tackle pressing health issues while helping their communities.

Sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (CTSI), PInCh 2021 recently awarded a total of $ 550,000 to eight projects.

“PInCh is all about the problem. It’s not the way we traditionally do science, where we develop and test hypotheses,” said Dr Steven Reis, director of CTSI and senior associate vice chancellor for the clinical and translational research in Pitt Schools of Health Sciences. “It’s about understanding the problem in depth, then applying existing technologies in a unique way or developing new technologies or approaches to solve this problem.

For the top prize of $ 100,000, six finalist teams made 5-minute presentations to a panel of judges, and three were selected as winners. The other three finalists received $ 35,000 and the six teams received a bonus of $ 15,000 because their projects aim to prevent or reduce health disparities.

“This year’s finalists presented solutions to a wide range of health issues,” said Reis. “Although it was difficult for the judges, the three winners came up with new projects that have a high chance of success and ultimately of improving health.”

One of the main awards went to Parenting While Black, a program that provides black parents with tools to promote their children’s mental health, academic achievement, and positive racial socialization. For white parents, there are plenty of resources to help with parenting, according to Dr. James Huguley, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion and associate professor at Pitt’s School of Social Work.

“But for black parents, there’s no ‘what to do’ when you’re a victim of racism,” Huguley said. “We will use the PInCh funds to grow our program by adding two units focused on mental health and increasing mental health content throughout the program.”

Led by Dr. Jacqueline Burgette, Assistant Professor of Pediatric Dentistry at Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine, and Dr. Peggy Liu, Ben L. Fryerar Chair of Marketing and Associate Professor of Business Administration at Pitt’s Katz Graduate School of Business, the Healthy Teeth Healthy Me Family Activity Box is another of the winning projects.

“The most common chronic disease in children is not obesity, diabetes or asthma, but tooth decay,” said Burgette. “Failure to treat tooth decay can have lasting health consequences. The key to avoiding this costly and burdensome disease is prevention and the creation of healthy habits. We’ve designed a fun, community-responsive, community-generated way to help kids develop these healthy habits where the action begins: home.

Developed with community partners, the family subscription box will feature an embedded video in the lid, fun oral health activities, and free gifts to help kids and their families build healthy dental habits. Challenge funds will allow the team to design the box and test its effectiveness in families in various Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

The third project to win a PInCh award is a new endotracheal tube called NextGenET. When people need mechanical ventilation for respiratory assistance – due to COVID-19 or other conditions – the breathing tube inserted into the airways often breaks down, allowing bacteria to enter the lungs, this which can cause a serious complication called ventilator-associated pneumonia. The innovative design of NextGenET creates a seal that is five times that of traditional tubes, effectively preventing bacteria from entering the lungs.

“One in four patients who are ventilated for more than 48 hours will develop ventilator-associated pneumonia, and of these, between 20% and 30% will die. This is not acceptable to us, ”said Dr. Garrett Coyan, chief resident in cardiothoracic surgery at UPMC and postdoctoral researcher in cardiovascular engineering at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “We have reinvented the endotracheal tube, or breathing tube, to prevent fatal aspiration of bacteria and ventilator-associated pneumonia.”

The other three finalist projects received $ 35,000 plus an additional $ 15,000 to address health disparities:

– DouLAS-AC: a doula model to provide dignity, heritage, advocacy and support to people with advanced cancer in the black community of Pittsburgh.

– The O2 Cube: A solar-powered supplemental oxygen system that can quickly bring medical oxygen to rural health centers that do not have an electrical network.

– HOMAGE to Grief in Communities of Color: a training program for paraprofessionals from communities of color to provide interpersonal psychotherapy to reduce grief-related depression.

Of the five finalists for the $ 25,000 Elevator Pitch Award, two received funding:

– LiDIA: a low-cost hearing screening and amplification device to improve clinical communication. This project also received a $ 5,000 bonus for health disparities.

– Platelet-Be-Gone-Stent: a new vascular stent coating process to prevent thrombosis and infusion.

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