Necessity is said to be the mother of invention, but for undergraduates at Johns Hopkins University the invention may save countless lives.

During birth, children's brains may be starved of oxygen for a number of reasons; knotting of the umbilical cord or a problem with the mother's placenta during a difficult birth. The starvation of oxygen in the brain of newborns can cause cerebral palsy which can leave the child with lifelong mental disabilities.

The usually treatment for newborns is to lower their body temperature by around six degrees for their first few days of life in order to prevent brain cells from dying off and allowing the body to properly re-oxygenate the brain. The lowering of body temperature in oxygen starved babies has been shown clinically to long term brain damage. But devices, available only in the developed world cost over $12,000 and are not feasible in much of the world where an electrical infrastructure may not exist.

The student inventors have published their results in the journal Medical Devices: Evidence and Research and have completed successful animal testing of a prototype of what they call the "Cooling Cure."

The device uses a clay pot, a burlap basket that has a plastic lining, powder from "instant ice" cold packs, temperatures sensors, a microprocessor and two AAA batteries. The cold is controlled by an endothermic reaction using the cold pack powder and only requires water to activate. The total cost come to around $40, compared to the commercially available cooling unit used in hospitals that costs $12,000.

"The students came up with a neat device that's easy for non-medical people to use. It's inexpensive and user-friendly," said Michael V. Johnston, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine pediatric neurology professor who advised the undergraduate team.

According to a press release made by Johns Hopkins University: "The unit's batteries power a microprocessor and sensors that track the child's internal and skin temperatures. Small lights flash red if the baby's temperature is too hot, green if the temperature is correct and blue if the child is too cold. By viewing the lights, the baby's nurse or a family member could add water to the sand to increase cooling. If the child is too cool, the caregiver could lift the child away from the chilling surface until the proper temperature is restored."

Statistically, half of the newborns with a severe from the condition die and survivors suffer from cerebral palsy or other brain disorders that significantly reduce their quality of life.

The research published in the journal Medical Devices: Evidence and Research can be found here.