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NEST360° wins $15 million in 100&Change finals
By Jade Boyd 

NEST360°, an international team of engineers, doctors and global health experts, has won $15 million through the MacArthur Foundation’s inaugural 100&Change competition and will continue to raise money for its visionary effort to end preventable newborn deaths in Africa.

NEST360° is a collaboration of Rice University, the University of Malawi, Northwestern University, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and 3rd Stone Design of San Rafael, Calif.

“Our whole team is committed to continuing our work to scale NEST (Newborn Essential Solutions and Technologies) across Africa in order to save 500,000 newborn lives every year,” said Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a Rice bioengineering professor who represented the team together with three others Dec. 11 in NEST360°’s final presentation at the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition in Chicago. The other NEST360° presenters were Dr. Queen Dube, a clinical pediatric specialist at Malawi’s largest hospital; Joy Lawn, professor and director of the Maternal, Adolescent, Reproductive and Child Health Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; and Robert Miros, CEO of 3rd Stone Design.

Four finalists from a field of more than 1,900 applicants vied for the $100 million grant, which was announced today by the foundation.

“We’re doubly grateful to the MacArthur Foundation, both for its $15 million commitment and its confidence in making us a 100&Change finalist,” said Richards-Kortum, director of the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health. “The 18 months our team spent preparing for this competition clearly showed there has never been a better time to address neonatal mortality in Africa. The political resolve, both internationally and among African nations, has never been stronger. The technology is attainable, and it can be delivered with a market-based approach that African hospitals can afford. Everything is aligned. We will solve this problem.”

More than 1 million African newborns die each year, and most could be saved with simple technologies that keep babies warm, help them breathe and help doctors diagnose and manage infections. NEST360° is creating a rugged package of 17 Newborn Essential Solutions and Technologies for African hospitals, as well as the distribution network to affordably deliver and repair them continent wide. Twelve of the 17 NEST technologies have already been created or are in clinical testing, and prototypes exist for five more. Several NEST devices were invented by Rice students at the university’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) and were improved and tested by Rice 360° students and staffers in Houston and Blantyre, Malawi.

“Rice 360°’s Newborn Essential Solutions and Technologies identifies the opportunity for action to improve the long-term prospects for the world’s children,” said Cecilia Conrad, MacArthur’s managing director who leads 100&Change. “It proposes a feasible and durable solution to remediate the effects of premature birth with its suite of 17 life-saving neonatal care technologies designed and adapted for low-resource settings. It proved worthy of MacArthur’s support. MacArthur is deeply committed to helping Rice 360° attract the support its critical work requires and finding partners to realize its impactful solution.”

Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden, OEDK director and NEST360°co-lead, thanked the entire NEST team for its dedication in preparing for the 100&Change competition. The team includes dozens of people on three continents.

“Every member of our team, including more than a dozen Rice students and Rice 360° staff, worked countless hours on NEST,” Oden said. “Buta special note of thanks goes to the team leadership in Malawi, Tanzania and Nigeria, including Nigerian Minister of Health Isaac Adewole, who traveled to Chicago in support of this project. Our African partners are vital to NEST’s success. It simply won’t happen without them.”

Richards-Kortum said the team has already begun to make plans for raising the rest of the funding they’ll need to make NEST a reality.

“It will take an investment on the order of $100 million to change things for African newborns, and there are few options for securing that much support at once,” Richards-Kortum said. “The good news is that we can build that magnitude of support from combined sources, and we’re committed to leveraging the $15 million to do that.”

Richards-Kortum is the Malcolm Gillis University Professor and professor of bioengineering and of electrical and computer engineering at Rice. Oden is a full teaching professor in bioengineering.