Posted on September 22, 2014

NUTRIA, a new feeding system for patients who can not ingest food normally, designed by 22 year old University of Limerick graduate, Darren Lehane, has won the Irish leg of the 2014 James Dyson award. A graduate of UL’s BSc Product Design and Technology, Darren was inspired to come up with the new invention after witnessing the hardship of his baby cousin, Danielle who had to use a feeding tube shortly after her birth.

“It was horrible.  She had an an awful time.  The tube kept falling out and the excess tube was taped to her face, giving her a rash. Inserting an NG tube incorrectly has life threatening consequences. A friend of mine studying medicine spoke of the stress this problem created in hospitals, but especially in the home setting, where an X-ray is not possible.”

Darren began to investigate ways of improving the feeding system and joined an online forum where parents shared the problems they were experiencing with tube feeding. “It was here that I learned of the skin irritation caused by taping the tube to the patient’s cheek. The appearance of a child with a tube taped to their face, has in itself become a symbol of illness. So I  set myself the goal to make the tube as discrete as possible. Many patients live normal sociable lives, and I wanted to design a solution that allowed them to do so with confidence.”

Unlike existing NG (Nasogastric)tubes, NUTRIA removes the risk of incorrect tube insertion and rests just inside the nostril, almost invisible from the outside. Excess tube is cut flush with the valve and not exposed on the face. To avoid misinserting the tube into the stomach, the system uses a Terahertz radiation microschip to show the exact position of the tube inside the body on a smartphone screen. Terahertz is a lot safer than x-ray due to a comparatively low frequency and long wavelength.

The system dramatically reduces the number of products and procedures involved in patient nutrition by combining three features to create a simplified, intuitive experience for the carer, as well as maximising patient comfort, and minimising cost.


UL BSc Product Design and Technology Graduate and James Dyson Award winner, Darren Lehane with his invention Nutria.


The technology

Inserting an NG tube incorrectly has life threatening consequences. This leads to significant stress both in hospitals, and especially in the home setting, where an X-ray is not possible. Existing NG tubes cause skin irritation as a result of taping the tube to the patient’s cheek. The appearance of a child with a tube taped to their face, is in itself a stigma as a symbol of illness. Meanwhile existing feeding pumps have an archaic design and  the cost of manufacturing is high, due to the extensive user interface they require.

Industrial Design student, Darren Lehane said: “I wanted to design a solution that allows patients to live normal sociable lives with confidence. The goal of eternal feeding is to feed a patient who cannot ingest food normally. It took a lot of thinking to figure out that this project would consist of 3 separate parts, that would work together as a suite of products. I remembered how my uncle had to feed his daughter via NG tube for 6 months, and after listening to his experience, it was apparent that tube placement was only one of several issues that made life difficult for carers and patients alike.   NUTRIA consists of a nostril valve to remove the need for taping of excess tubing, an audio jack accessory to safely monitor tube insertion on  smart phone and a re-engineered pump with only two buttons; the on/off switch, and a button that winds in the feeding tube. All other functionality is moved to an app that’s operated on any smart device, via Bluetooth.”

Darren has so far designed over 21 prototypes, disassembled 1 microwave, 3 vacuum cleaners, 2 retractable dog leashes, 4 measuring tapes, and 3 scalpel blade holders, as well as retrofitting countless medical products to the various prototypes. Nutria will progress to the international stage of the James Dyson Award and Darren aims to commercialise the product.

Judge Adrian Weckler said “I was extremely impressed with the vision, design and development expertise with which Nutria was created. Although it faces some stiff challenges ahead, the product is an example of practical innovation and great design.”

For the 5th year running now, BSc Product Design and Technology students from the University of Limerick have been successful at both the awards and short-listing stages of the internationally renowned James Dyson Awards. Find out more about the BSc Product Design and Technology.

Applications are open for 2024 now.

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