Researchers in Japan have developed the first wearable devices to accurately monitor jaundice, a yellowing of the skin caused by elevated levels of bilirubin in the blood that can cause serious medical conditions in newborns.
Neonatal jaundice is one of the leading causes of death and brain damage in babies in low- and middle-income countries, but it can be easily treated by irradiating the baby with blue light that breaks down bilirubin so that it can be excreted through urine.
However, the treatment itself can interrupt bonding time, cause dehydration, and increase the risks of allergic diseases.
To address the tricky balance of delivering the precise amount of blue light needed to counteract exact bilirubin levels, researchers have developed the first portable newborn sensor that is capable of continuously measuring bilirubin. In addition to bilirubin detection, the device can simultaneously detect pulse rate and blood oxygen saturation in real time.
“We have developed the world’s first portable multivital device for newborns that can simultaneously measure neonatal jaundice, blood oxygen saturation and pulse rate,” said Hiroki Ota, noting that jaundice occurs in 60 to 80% of all. The newborns. “Real-time monitoring of jaundice is essential for neonatal care. Continuous measurements of bilirubin levels can help improve the quality of phototherapy and patient outcome. “
Led by Hiroki Ota, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Yokohama National University Graduate School of Systems Integration, and Shuichi Ito, Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the City University Graduate School of Medicine from Yokohama, the team published their results on March 3 in Progress of science.
Currently, medical professionals use portable meters to measure bilirubin levels, but there is no device that can simultaneously measure jaundice and vital signs in real time.
“In this study, we were able to miniaturize the device to a size that can be worn on the forehead of a newborn baby,” said Ota. “By adding the function of a pulse oximeter to the device, multiple vital signs can be easily detected.”
Held on the baby’s forehead by a silicone interface, the device has a lens capable of efficiently transmitting lights to the newborn’s skin through battery-operated light-emitting diodes, commonly known as LEDs.
“At the current stage, button-type batteries are used and the overall shape is very thick,” said Ota. “In the future, it will be necessary to further reduce thickness and weight through the use of thin-film batteries and organic materials.”
The researchers tested the device on 50 babies and found that currently the device is not accurate enough to be the only measure used.
But Ota’s team will reduce the thickness and increase the flexibility of the device, in addition to improving the silicone interface to facilitate better contact with the skin.
In the future, the researchers plan to develop a combined treatment approach that combines a portable bilirubinometer with a phototherapy device to optimize the amount and duration of light therapy based on continuous measurements of bilirubin levels.
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