Health Team

Duke students create pouch to help deliver HIV drugs to infants

Posted June 24, 2014 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated June 24, 2014 6:54 p.m. EDT

— One drug could prevent 500,000 babies worldwide from getting HIV from their mothers, but in the poorest nations of the world simply getting the medicine to infants is the hardest part. 

A group of Duke University students recently developed a special pouch that can keep Nevirapine potent for longer, giving unborn babies a chance to get life-saving medication immediately after they are born. 

NVP works well when babies are born in hospitals, but many mothers in Africa and other poor countries have their children at home. When NVP is given to expectant mothers in a single-dose device like a syringe, it becomes ineffective. 

Dr. Robert Malkin posed the problem to his biomedical engineering students at Duke. 

"We needed a packaging system that you could give to the mother before she delivers, but the medication would still be good at the time of delivery, potentially months later," Malkin said. 

Students developed the multi-layered Pratt Pouch – named after Duke's Pratt School of Engineering – to keep NVP potent for up to a year. 

The 4-cent pouch is filled, heat-sealed and given to expectant mothers. 

"We see this as a very significant discovery," Malkin said. "We're hoping to cover 80 to 90 percent of all the at-risk population in the world."

Many of Malkin's students are now in Zambia, Tanzania and Ecuador gathering data about the pouch's effectiveness. 

Because of the pouch, Duke's School of Engineering earned a top smart power innovation recognition from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.