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Smart Pacifier Eliminates Need for Invasive Blood Draws to Monitor Electrolytes of Babies in NICU

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 17 May 2022
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Image: A wireless, bioelectronic pacifier could eliminate the need for invasive blood draws (Photo courtesy of WSU)
Image: A wireless, bioelectronic pacifier could eliminate the need for invasive blood draws (Photo courtesy of WSU)

Babies in Newborn Intensive Care Units or NICUs have to bear twice-daily blood draws for monitoring of their electrolytes to help alert caregivers if the babies are dehydrated, which can be dangerous for infants, especially those born prematurely or with other health issues. The blood-draw method can be potentially painful for the infant, and it leaves big gaps in information since they are usually done once in the morning and once in the evening. Other methods have been developed to test an infants’ saliva for these electrolytes, but they involve bulky, rigid devices that require a separate sample collection. Now, a wireless, bioelectronic pacifier could eliminate the need for invasive, twice-daily blood draws to monitor babies’ electrolytes in NICUs.

The smart pacifier developed by researchers at the Washington State University (Pullman, WA, USA) can also provide more continuous monitoring of sodium and potassium ion levels. Using a common, commercially available pacifier, the researchers created a system that samples a baby’s saliva through microfluidic channels. Whenever the baby has the pacifier in their mouth, saliva is naturally attracted to these channels, so the device doesn’t require any kind of pumping system. The channels have small sensors inside that measure the sodium and potassium ion concentrations in the saliva. Then this data is relayed wirelessly using Bluetooth to the caregiver.

In a proof-of-concept study, the researchers tested the smart pacifier on a selection of infants in a hospital, and the results were comparable to data gained from their normal blood draws. For the next step of development, the research team plans to make the components more affordable and recyclable. Then, they will work to set up a larger test of the smart pacifier to establish its efficacy with the aim of making NICU treatment less disruptive for tiny patients.

“We know that premature babies have a better chance of survival if they get a high quality of care in the first month of birth,” said Jong-Hoon Kim, associate professor at the Washington State University School of Engineering and Computer Science and a co-corresponding author on the study. “Normally, in a hospital environment, they draw blood from the baby twice a day, so they just get two data points. This device is a non-invasive way to provide real-time monitoring of the electrolyte concentration of babies.”

“You often see NICU pictures where babies are hooked up to a bunch of wires to check their health conditions such as their heart rate, the respiratory rate, body temperature, and blood pressure,” added Kim. “We want to get rid of those wires.”

Related Links:
Washington State University 


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