Written by Julie Lauderbaugh / November 21, 2017
Christy McKinney, Ph.D., MPH
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Craniofacial Medicine
Adjunct Professor of Oral Health Sciences
•Investigator, Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development
2017 UW School of Medicine Inventor of the Year
A grim, global problem has tugged at the heart and mind of Christy McKinney: Without the normal ability to suckle, swallow and breathe, infants born prematurely, or with cleft lips and palates, struggle to survive.
McKinney is working to make sure they do — and on Nov. 14, the UW School of Medicine honored her undaunted commitment, creativity and innovation with its 2017 Inventor of the Year Award for her novel solution: the NIFTY™ Cup. She shares the award with collaborator Dr. Michael Cunningham, Medical Director of the Craniofacial Center at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Made of easy-to-sanitize silicone, the Nifty cup is a soft bowl with a tiny reservoir and spout that makes it easy for both mothers to deposit their nutrient-rich breast milk, and babies to feed — and thrive.
McKinney and Cunningham created the cup with Patricia Coffey at PATH and a team of others at Seattle Children’s and Laerdal Global Health, their commercial partner. It has the potential to help 15 million infants who are born with breastfeeding difficulties each year worldwide.
“The UW had the right people, with the right expertise to get this idea off the ground,” says McKinney. “This award marks an amazing journey for the Nifty cup, a project that was done on a shoestring budget for almost its entire life.”
In 2013, CoMotion helped connect McKinney’s passion with possibilities. CoMotion lent expertise on everything from patent potential to business planning, and provided $5,000 in STEP funding to help further develop a prototype and field test it with babies in India.
The trip was the beginning of a string of successes for McKinney, who, with Coffey, went on to win a highly coveted $250,000 award through the Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development program.
“There are so many children in low-resource settings with health challenges who could succeed if they could just feed properly,” says McKinney. “That’s the next step — to create pathways for care that are impenetrable.”
The SOM Inventor of the Year Awards ceremony also featured a CoMotion Innovation Showcase with the posters of eight students and postdocs on display. Teams gave a 60-second lightning-round pitch on their innovations and the audience voted for a winner to take home a $1,000 prize.
This year, MedsForAll, led by mechanical engineering students Ha Seung Chung and Shawn Swanson, won for its inexpensive auto-injector device that could displace the EpiPen.
Jeanette Ennis supports UW researchers pursuing grant money to commercialize their innovations, and helps CoMotion secure economic development grant opportunities. Ennis joined CoMotion in 2009 after more than 15 years of broad research experience as a scientist, entrepreneur, and manager. Her areas of expertise include pharmacology, biochemistry, molecular biology, tissue engineering, and medical devices. She has worked with a variety of start-up companies as project manager, grant writer, and intellectual property manager, and held senior research positions at Cornell University and the UW Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery. She earned a doctorate in medical and molecular pharmacology from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she trained with Louis Ignarro, Nobel Laureate in Physiology. She also holds a certificate in technical writing and editing from the UW Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering.