Fortifying breast milk

Death by diarrhea is avoidable. Nonetheless, this year, approximately 800,000 children under the age of five will succumb to diarrhea-related complications, primarily in the developing world. One effective treatment is the right combination of zinc, clean water, sugar and salt. JustMilk, an international nonprofit organization, has developed a new technology to simplify that intervention.

“We are focusing on zinc delivery,” says Aspen Flynn, a Berkeley molecular biology alumna and one of JustMilk’s co-founders. Other co-founders, based at UC Irvine and University of Cambridge, are working toward making the device available in health clinics worldwide.

The technology springs from a 2008 International Development Design Summit project to prevent HIV transmission during breastfeeding. A nipple shield — a thin protective barrier frequently used by breastfeeding mothers with cracked or sore nipples — was reconceived as a device capable of delivering HIV-inhibiting medication. Then the eureka moment: it could also deliver other crucial drugs.

“It’s a platform technology,” Flynn says, “and zinc is classified as a nutrient instead of a medication, so there are fewer obstacles to testing. Proving the effectiveness of the method will open the door for medication delivery.”

Last year, Flynn teamed up with mechanical engineering professor Alice Agogino to work on deploying and scaling the JustMilk device. “The next challenge is to prototype and test different materials, geometries and manufacturing methods,” says Agogino.


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