Back to Rice!

This first month back at Rice has been challenging, rewarding, and full of surprises. Being back at Rice as a graduate student has been quite an adjustment, but I think I am finally getting the hang of things. Implementation projects, design projects, and coursework have kept us busy, but I’m enjoying every minute of it!

At the end of the summer, each GMI student was assigned to an implementation project. These projects are continuations from the work of previous GMI students and collaborators. Our job is to take these projects from the design stage to clinical trials, business models, and actually getting them to patients. The implementation project that I am working on this year is MilkyWaves. MilkyWaves is a low-cost device designed for patients in the NICU. When babies are born prematurely, they often receive enteral feeding, which is feeding through a tube in the stomach. For these patients, nutrition is critical, as they must gain weight in order to stabilize or receive a surgery or treatment that they need. Mothers express breast milk which is then fed to the baby through the tube. However, a huge problem that often arises is separation of the fat from the cream. Due to the very slow flow rate of pumping, the fat can get stuck in the bag and stick to the walls of the tubing. Only about half of the fat from the milk actually makes it to the baby, which can have a huge effect on the baby’s outcome. For this reason, there is a real need to improve fat delivery during enteral feeding.

Last year, two of our collaborators from Costa Rica, Jorge and Guiselle, worked on this project. They worked with the Hospital Nacional de Niños in San Jose, Costa Rica to design and create a device that helps prevent fat separation and sticking to the tubes. Now, my goal is to work with them to prepare this device for clinical trials and develop a business plan to get these devices into hospitals.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica and see the NICUs first hand, as well as work with Jorge and Guiselle on determining a plan of action. On Friday morning, Karlee, Chandler and I visited Hospital México, where we had the opportunity to interview the head of their neonatology department and visit the NICU. This was a very valuable experience because a lot of what we heard from the doctors here aligned with our research and validated our need. In the afternoon, we got to visit Hospital Nacional de Niños and speak with a nurse who has worked there for over 20 years. She shared a lot of her insights into the problem, and we learned a lot about the feeding process. Though our trip was incredibly short, it was extremely valuable. Getting the opportunity to see these issues firsthand and work with Jorge and Guiselle gave me new ideas for the direction I can take this project this year, and I’m looking forward to getting the ball rolling!

Aside from MilkyWaves, this first month of school has been jam-packed with other things to do. We are currently in a design course with MBA students from the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice and cardiology fellows from Baylor College of Medicine. In this course, each team has been given a need, which the fellows found and scoped for the purposes of this class. Our job is to work to design a solution and business plan.

Siri and I are on a team along with two MBA students, a public health PhD student, and a cardiology fellow. We are working to design a device that can detect exacerbation in COPD patients in order to minimize the frequency of their hospital stays. Working on this interdisciplinary team has been a really constructive experience. Each member brings a different skill set and point-of-view to the team, and we have been able to utilize these different tools throughout every step of the process. I have really enjoyed working on this project thus far, and am excited to see where the semester takes us.

Outside of school, this has also been a crazy month to be in Houston. As a native Houstonian, seeing the destruction that Hurricane Harvey inflicted upon my community was sobering. I have never seen flooding and destruction in Houston to the degree that I have seen over the past few weeks. My family and I were very lucky to escape any damage to our health or home, but so many of our friends and neighbors were not as lucky. Though this month has been disheartening in so many ways, it was incredible to see the community unite and work to rebuild and help those in need. I had the opportunity to work with some families to move and restore their homes. Though this was just a drop in the bucket compared to the immense outpouring of support seen throughout Houston, Texas, and the United States, it opened my eyes to the resilience of my community and the strength of our spirit.

All in all, this first month back at Rice has exceeded my expectations in every way. The next few months are bound to be just as exciting, and I’m thrilled for what is to come!

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