Babies that end up in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) are monitored via a complex collection of sensors, each of which has a wire connected to a patient monitor. While necessary, all this technology makes it difficult for parents to bond with their children and for clinicians to access their patients.
Northwestern University engineers have developed flexible, wireless sensor patches that are able to collect the same vital signs as wired devices while offering an entire set of additional capabilities that existing commercial devices lack.
The new sensors are able to track the heart rate, respiration rate, temperature, and blood oxygenation as well as conventional sensors, and they also allow for monitoring of body movement and orientation, recording heart sounds, crying, and other audio biomarkers, and even provide a pretty accurate estimate of systolic blood pressure.
The sensors are powered by internal batteries and are pretty cheap to manufacture, and so should be applicable for use in low resource areas and varying clinical settings. Additionally, the same sensors can be used to monitor pregnant women and potentially hospitalized adults as well.
Following comprehensive testing at two hospitals in Chicago, the results of which have just been published in journal Nature Medicine, the sensors are already being evaluated for use on newborns in a hospital in Kenya and one in Zambia.