Children born prematurely end up in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where they’re hooked up to an array of sensors, each connected by a wire to a patient monitor. It’s a sad sight, let alone a hindrance to physical and emotional bonding that is so important in the weeks after birth. Scientists at Northwestern University have now developed flexible and wireless patches that are able to monitor parameters such as the heart rate, body temperature, and blood oxygenation as well as existing wired devices.
The Northwestern team studied the new sensors on about two dozen preemies at Prentice Women’s Hospital and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, and showed that the new devices are as accurate and precise as the sensors currently used in the hospitals’ NICUs. Moreover, the devices are amazingly non-intrusive, allowing parents to touch and hold their babies without interfering with the ongoing monitoring.
The children in the study were outfitted with conventional sensors as well as the wireless ones. There was a nearly perfect correlation between the readings, demonstrating that the new sensors can be used effectively in clinical practice. Since the original study, which was just published in journal Science, the team expanded the research to include more than 70 newborns.
While existing stick-on sensors are able to measure only the heart rate, respiration rate, body temperature, and oxygenation, the new wireless devices can also monitor the blood pressure, blood flow, as well as provide accurate readings while the child is interacting with someone else.
Each child was outfitted with two sensors. One was placed on the chest while the other was stuck to one of the feet. This approach provides a core body temperature reading, as well as the temperature at the periphery, which can help to identify poor blood flow and spot signs of an improperly developed heart. Additionally, the blood pressure is estimated using the pulse wave velocity technique that measures how fast a wave moves from the chest to the feet.
Here’s a Northwestern video about this research:
Study in journal Science: Binodal, wireless epidermal electronic systems with in-sensor analytics for neonatal intensive care…