Wireless device could better-monitor babies' blood

Wireless device could better-monitor babies' blood
Ulkuhan Guler with the prototype optical sensor
Ulkuhan Guler with the prototype optical sensor
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Ulkuhan Guler with the prototype optical sensor
Ulkuhan Guler with the prototype optical sensor

In order to monitor a sick infant's blood oxygen levels, the baby typically has to wear adhesive sensors that are hard-wired to a relatively large bedside device. Soon, however, a wireless optical sensor could free such infants up, even allowing them to be taken home.

Led by Asst. Prof. Ulkuhan Guler, a team at Massachusetts' Worcester Polytechnic Institute is developing the gadget, which should ultimately be about the size of a Band-Aid.

What it specifically measures is PO2, or the partial pressure of oxygen. This indicates the amount of oxygen that's dissolved in the blood, and it's a more accurate measure of respiratory health than the oxygen saturation readings that are obtained using finger-clamp pulse oximetry devices.

Worn against the skin, the flexible, stretchable Worcester sensor incorporates a thin film that emits red light. The greater the number of oxygen molecules that are diffused from the bloodstream and out through the skin, the more intense that light gets. Therefore, by continuously monitoring the red light levels, the device is able to monitor a baby's PO2 in real time.

Plans call for the final version of the sensor to be wirelessly powered. Additionally, once it's equipped with a chip that's currently in development, it will be able to wirelessly access the internet, sending warnings to an app on doctors' and parents' smartphones in the event that the infant's blood oxygen levels start to drop.

The technology could also find use on adult patients, such as those suffering from severe asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"Extended stays in the hospital are costly and can be a strain on families," says Guler. "Our goal with this affordable, mobile device is to give doctors more flexibility in monitoring their patients both in the hospital and at home."

Source: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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