Rethinking Healthcare

A mighty pen screens mothers-to-be for fatal, yet preventable, illnesses

A mighty pen screens mothers-to-be for fatal, yet preventable, illnesses

Posting in Design

The Antenatal Screening Kit includes pens that can help screen for potentially lethal conditions, like anemia and gestational diabetes, in pregnant women from developing countries.

An ultracheap felt-tip pen hopes to prevent millions of unnecessary deaths a year.

It’s the winner of the 2011 Be the Change: Save a Life Maternal Health Challenge launched by ABC News and the Duke Global Health Institute.

Created by bioengineering students at Johns Hopkins University, the Antenatal Screening Kit includes pen-sized devices that can help screen for preventable diseases in pregnant women and newborns in developing countries – where 99% of maternal deaths occur.

The pen (pictured) marks a strip of filter paper with chemical solutions. When the patient urinates directly on the strip (like a pregnancy test) and the color changes to match the pen cap, that indicates that she’s positive for the particular condition.

By testing for things like protein, glucose, and hemoglobin, the kit can screen for various conditions including: gestational diabetes, malnutrition, urinary tract infection, anemia, neonatal jaundice, and pre-eclampsia and convulsion-causing eclampsia.

Each test will cost half a cent, compared to current screening methods (like the urine dipstick), which cost about twenty cents per test. This makes it simpler for community health workers from travel village to village to deliver screening tests.

The winners of the $10,000 grand prize were selected from 65 video entries. Watch the winning video.

"We've been working really hard on this health kit for a long time now… and this money is going to help us achieve our goals," team leader Sean Monagle told ABC News. He and his team spent months field-testing the device in Nepal with help from non-profit Jhpiego, a JHU affiliate.

The kit had already won a People’s Choice Award at the 2011 National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) annual Open Minds conference. Coming up, the team will present their idea at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health Conference in November. The Lemelson Foundation helped support the project.

Images: NCIIA

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure