Smart Pacifier That Monitors Electrolyte Levels in Saliva Could Prove to Be Beneficial for Vital Care of Infants in Newborn Intensive Care Units
Tiny sensors with Bluetooth technology that measure useful biomarkers may eliminate need for invasive blood draws used for clinical laboratory tests
What if a baby’s pacifier could be used to measure electrolyte levels in newborns? An international research team has developed just such a device, and it has the potential to reduce invasive blood collections required to provide specimens for clinical laboratory testing of critical biomarkers. At the same time, this device may allow continuous monitoring of electrolyte levels with wireless alerts to caregivers.
Developed at Washington State University (WSU) Vancouver with researchers from the United States and South Korea, the wireless bioelectronic pacifier monitors electrolyte levels in newborn intensive care unit (NICU) babies and sends the collected data to caregivers and hospital information systems in real time.
Reliable Information from Consistent Monitoring
Typical blood draws for NICU babies can cause information gaps as they are usually only performed twice a day. This can be problematic in cases where more frequent monitoring of these biomarkers is required to monitor the infant’s condition.
“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, PhD, Associate Professor at the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, in a WSU news release. “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.”
Kim is a co-corresponding author of the WSU study published in the peer-reviewed journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, titled, “Smart Bioelectronic Pacifier for Real-Time Continuous Monitoring of Salivary Electrolytes.”
How the Smart Pacifier Works
The miniature system developed by the WSU researchers utilizes a typical, commercially available pacifier outfitted with ion-selective sensors, flexible circuits, and microfluidic channels that monitor salivary electrolytes. These flexible, microfluidic channels attract the saliva when the pacifier is in the infant’s mouth which enables continuous and efficient saliva collection without the need for any type of pumping system. The gathered data is relayed wirelessly to caregivers using Bluetooth technology.
When the researchers tested their smart pacifier on infants, they discovered that the results captured from the device were comparable to information obtained from normal blood draws and standard clinical laboratory tests. Kim noted in the press release that technology currently in use to test infant saliva for electrolytes tend to be bulky, rigid devices that require a separate sample collection.
“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,” said Kim in the press release. “We want to get rid of those wires.”
The researchers intend to make the components for the device more affordable and recyclable. They also plan to perform testing for their smart pacifier on larger test groups to prove efficacy and hope the gadget will help make NICU treatment less disruptive for infant patients.
Before the ‘Smart’ Pacifier Were ‘Smart’ Diapers!
Going as far back as 2013, Dark Daily has covered research into the use of sensors placed in wearables and disposables to detect and monitor health issues.
In “New ‘Smart Diaper’ Tests Baby’s Urine for Urinary Tract Infections, Dehydration, and Kidney Problems—then Alerts Baby’s Doctor,” Dark Daily reported on how the advent of digital technology and smartphones was moving medical laboratory testing out of the central laboratory and into the bedside, homes, and into diapers!
And this past fall, in “Researchers in Japan Have Developed a ‘Smart’ Diaper Equipped with a Self-powered Biosensor That Can Monitor Blood Glucose Levels in Adults,” we reported on researchers who were combining diagnostics with existing products to help medical professionals and patients monitor bodily functions and chronic diseases.
“It should be noted that the ability to put reliable diagnostic sensors in disposables like diapers has been around for almost a decade and does not seem to have caught on with either caregivers or the public,” said Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication, The Dark Report. “Because the researchers who developed the pacifier are attempting to solve a problem for NICU babies, this solution might find acceptance.”
This is another example of how researchers are thinking outside the box as to how to measure critical biomarkers without the need to send a specimen to the core clinical laboratory and wait hours—sometimes overnight—for results.