The latest winners of the Pitt Innovation Challenge, which supports solutions to perplexing healthcare problems, take on everything from tooth decay and Covid ventilator-related infections to “parenting while black.”

Every year, hundreds of thousands of dollars are awarded by the University of Pittsburgh’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute to health care innovators, such as Dr. Peggy Liu, who is part of the winning team for the Healthy Teeth Healthy Me Family Activity Box.

“The number one chronic disease of childhood is actually tooth decay,” Lui says. “Not asthma or diabetes or obesity, but tooth decay … During this pandemic, the number one unmet child health need has been dental care.”

Jacqueline Burgette, a pediatric dentist and researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine, collaborated with Liu on the project, which will receive $100,000. This year $550,000 was awarded to eight new healthcare proposals.

“The idea for the Healthy Teeth Healthy Me box came directly from mothers in a community-based study in Pittsburgh,” Burgette says. “So one mother said, ‘A box of things — everyone’s going look at it in my house. Another mother said that a subscription box sounds like a cool idea, with samples geared towards the kids that would get them excited.”

The box will feature a video screen in the lid, that can play when opened.

“That will feature a local family highlighting their personal experiences and reasons for performing child’s oral health activities, like feeding children healthy food to prevent tooth decay, and where to access those foods in their community,” says Burgette.

“There’s research which shows that in order to get people to stick with habits, you have to make them fun,” adds Liu.

So there are toothbrushes, of course. But there might also be a children’s book, games and other activities. The $100,000 prize will help the team start a two-phase study, which will include interviewing demographically diverse families about design content and usability, and a randomized control trial to see how well the project works.

The team worked with the University of Pittsburgh Community Engagement Center and community partners, Homewood Children’s Village and Allegheny County Early Head Start.

Other winners of the Pitt Innovation Challenge include NextGenET, a group that has reinvented the tube inserted into airways for those who need to be put on a ventilator (for Covid or other reasons). NextGenET addresses the issues of leaks and inhalation of bacteria, and a serious condition called ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Another $100,000 winner is Parenting While Black, which will “provide Black parents with tools to promote their children’s mental health, academic achievement and positive racial socialization.”

Several other awards of $35,000 were also presented. See the complete list of Pitt Innovation Challenge winners here.

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.