Posted on Jul 3, 2018

Natural Nipple Receives National $50,000 I-Corps Grant

Natural Nipple Receives National $50,000 I-Corps Grant

A USF College of Nursing doctoral student’s goal to develop a product that combats nipple confusion and helps women breastfeed longer has advanced to the national level with the award of a federal I-Corps grant.

Nurse practitioner and PhD student Lauren Wright won a $50,000 National Science Foundation grant within the I-Corps program, an enterprise that helps scientists bring ideas from the research labs into the consumer market through business and product marketing and development.

This spring, Wright’s Natural Nipple project was one of nine local I-Corps teams selected to participate in the six-week introductory boot camp at the University of South Florida. Each semester, I-Corps teams from across the USF System receive up to $3,000, as well as, training and mentoring to explore their ideas and its potential commercial development.

“I-Corps’ goal is to take the ideas that scientists have and say, ‘OK, this is a great idea. We want to bring this into the commercial world. Now we’re going to fund your customer discovery, because we need to find out what the consumer really needs and what problems are really happening,’ ” she said.

Wright is one step closer to having the Natural Nipple become reality.

Wright’s idea is to create a baby bottle nipple that is similarly shaped to the natural breast and closely replicates the natural maternal flow rate of breastmilk. The theory is that the more easily that babies can alternate between the bottle and the breast, the longer a mother would be able to continue to breastfeed.

During the initial I-Corps grant from USF, Wright interviewed 130 breastfeeding moms and found that not only is nipple shape an important factor in continuing to breastfeed, but flow rate is as well.

Currently commercially available baby bottle nipples have a set standard for flow rates, but there’s never been a study done to show what maternal flow rates are, she said. When an infant gets used to the faster milk intake from a standard nipple, they are more likely to refuse to breastfeed.

Wright said her research has focused on “how we can give moms the freedom to be able to give (infants) the bottle when they go to work, but still come back and have that skin to skin and breastfeed for as long as they possibly want.”

The project’s next phase begins this month with the help of the grant money, which will pay for customer research and travel. She hopes to interview new mothers in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit as well as representatives with breastfeeding supply companies.

She also hopes to conduct the first study to get an average for maternal breastmilk flow rates for infants at birth, at 3 months, and at 6 months. The flow rate study would be several steps down the road. If successful, Wright sees other commercial benefits to her research, such as pump flanges, pacifiers, and nipple shields.

“The technology started with my hope to create a more breast-like bottle nipple, and now I’m seeing the utility for it across the spectrum of breastfeeding appliances,” Wright said.

For now, the focus is on “customer discovery and making sure your ideas align with their needs,” she said.

Wright said the idea for a product that would help mothers prolong breastfeeding started from her doctoral dissertation research looking at clinical factors that would improve preterm babies’ health outcomes. After an exhaustive literature review, Wright found that the only factor that can be controlled to help those babies’ outcomes is the increased volume of breastmilk.

Her life-long passion has been in preventative medicine. She and her family grew up on welfare, lived in Section 8 housing, and had very poor access to health care. When they were able to see a doctor, she saw how her family was treated differently. That experience has “fueled my passion for finding solutions that people can afford,” she said.

Wright said she wants to make a difference with her research, and sees the potential for turning this novice scientific advancement into a commercially available product that will help breastfeeding moms.

“We’re just trying to give infants the best start to their life — an immune cocktail that’s pretty much tailored to that baby’s needs, provides them with all the nourishments, all the antibodies, and all the good bacteria that they need to flourish and develop healthily,” she said.

“We can give moms the best possible chance to prolong that and provide bottle-to-breast continuity. That’s the Natural Nipple.”

Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing