Christine O’Brien, assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, and her team have received a $20,000 prize from the National Institutes of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Technology (RADx Tech) for Maternal Health Challenge.

The prize is the first step in the challenge that will ultimately award $8 million in total prizes to inventors who are developing home-based and point-of-care maternal health diagnostic devices, wearables or other technologies designed to reduce maternal complications and death in those who live where maternity care is limited. The program seeks technologies intended to be used by the postpartum individual, caregivers or health care providers for the first year after giving birth. In the first round of the challenge, 15 inventor teams won $20,000 each. In the phased competition, ultimately, up to six inventor teams will advance, and if selected as finalists, they will receive collectively more than $850,000 each.

The team has developed a light-based, wrist-worn device designed to monitor and detect severe bleeding, or hemorrhage, after giving birth, which can happen in minutes, hours or days after birth. Postpartum hemorrhage is the leading cause of preventable maternal death worldwide and accounts for about 10% of preventable maternal deaths in the United States. 

O’Brien and her team have co-founded a startup company, Armor Medical Inc., to further develop and commercialize the device. The university’s Office of Technology Management has applied for a patent on the technology.

In July 2022, O’Brien and her team were recognized as Honorable Mention Awardees in another competition, the National Institutes of Health Technology Accelerator Challenge (NTAC) for Maternal Health.

With support from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, O’Brien develops translational optical technologies that can improve women's health care. Her lab develops optical tools that tackle important challenges spanning maternal health, reproductive cancers and women's global health, using optical spectroscopy, optical imaging and simulation techniques that can be translated to impact patient care.


The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. McKelvey Engineering has top-ranked research and graduate programs across departments, particularly in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computing, and has one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country. With 165 full-time faculty, 1,420 undergraduate students, 1,614 graduate students and 21,000 living alumni, we are working to solve some of society’s greatest challenges; to prepare students to become leaders and innovate throughout their careers; and to be a catalyst of economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.

Click on the topics below for more stories in those areas