Health & Wellbeing

"Smart" pacifier could warn of dehydration in newborn babies

"Smart" pacifier could warn of...
The pacifier transmits electrolyte level readings to an accompanying app
The pacifier transmits electrolyte level readings to an accompanying app
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Although other systems have been developed to provide real-time analysis of infant saliva, most have been considerably bulkier and less effective than the pacifier
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Although other systems have been developed to provide real-time analysis of infant saliva, most have been considerably bulkier and less effective than the pacifier
The pacifier transmits electrolyte level readings to an accompanying app
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The pacifier transmits electrolyte level readings to an accompanying app

Presently, in order to check electrolyte levels in newborn babies, blood samples are drawn from the infants twice a day. Soon, however, a "smart" pacifier could be used to non-invasively collect that same data.

The monitoring of electrolytes in newborns is very important, as low levels indicate that the infant is becoming dehydrated – this is a particularly common problem in prematurely born babies. And while those electrolytes are present in the bloodstream, they're also found in corresponding amounts within the saliva.

With that fact in mind, a Washington State University team led by Assoc. Prof. Jong-Hoon Kim developed the experimental new pacifier. It incorporates a commercially available pacifier, to which electronic components have been added.

As an infant sucks on the device, saliva is naturally drawn from their mouth into a series of integrated microfluidic channels – no pumping mechanism is required. Sensors within those channels detect and measure sodium and potassium ion concentrations in the saliva. That data is transmitted via Bluetooth to a caregiver's mobile device, where it's displayed on an app screen.

Although other systems have been developed to provide real-time analysis of infant saliva, most have been considerably bulkier and less effective than the pacifier
Although other systems have been developed to provide real-time analysis of infant saliva, most have been considerably bulkier and less effective than the pacifier

When the pacifier was tested on babies in a hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, electrolyte readings reported by the device were found to be in line with those obtained through traditional blood sampling. What's more, the pacifier provided that data continuously, as long as it was in each infant's mouth.

"Normally, in a hospital environment, they draw blood from the baby twice a day, so they just get two data points," said Kim. "This device is a non-invasive way to provide real-time monitoring of the electrolyte concentration of babies."

The scientists are now working on making the device less expensive and more recyclable, plus they're planning on conducting larger-scale trials. A paper on their research was recently published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

An unrelated previously developed smart pacifier, created by a team at the University of California-San Diego, measures glucose concentrations in saliva.

Source: Washington State University

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