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World’s First Wearable Device to Measure Neonatal Jaundice and Vitals

Japanese scientists have designed the first-ever wearable devices to accurately monitor jaundice, a yellowing of the skin due to increased bilirubin levels in the blood that can result in severe medical conditions in infants.

Schematic of neonatal wearable device for detecting jaundice and vitals. Image Credit: Yokohama National University.

Treatment for jaundice can be done effortlessly by irradiating the infant with a blue light that disintegrates bilirubin, which is later secreted via urine. But the treatment itself can disturb bonding time, lead to dehydration and elevate the risks of allergic diseases.

In low- and middle-income countries, neonatal jaundice is one of the principal causes of death and brain damage in newborns.

Scientists have developed the first wearable sensor for infants with the ability to constantly measure bilirubin to achieve the intricate balance of administering the accurate amount of blue light required to neutralize the correct levels of bilirubin.

As well as the detection of bilirubin, the device can concurrently detect blood oxygen saturation and pulse rate in real time.

The research team led by Hiroki Ota, associate professor of mechanical engineering in Yokohama National University’s Graduate School of System Integration, and Shuichi Ito, professor of the Department of Pediatrics in Yokohama City University’s Graduate School of Medicine, published the study findings in the Science Advances journal on March 3rd, 2021.

We have developed the world's first wearable multi-vital device for newborns that can simultaneously measure neonatal jaundice, blood oxygen saturation and pulse rate. The real-time monitoring of jaundice is critical for neonatal care. Continuous measurements of bilirubin levels may contribute to the improvement of quality of phototherapy and patient outcome.

Hiroki Ota, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Graduate School of System Integration, Yokohama National University

Ota noted that 60% to 80% of all newborns suffer from jaundice. At present, medical professionals make use of portable bilirubinometers to quantify bilirubin levels, but no existing device can concurrently measure vitals and jaundice in real time.

In this study, we succeeded in miniaturizing the device to a size that can be worn on the forehead of a newborn baby. By adding the function of a pulse oximeter to the device, multiple vitals can easily be detected.

Hiroki Ota, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Graduate School of System Integration, Yokohama National University

When the device is held against the forehead of a baby using a silicone interface, a lens equipped in the device transmit lights efficiently to a neonatal skin through battery-powered light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

At the present stage, coin cell batteries are used, and the overall shape is very thick. In the future, it will be necessary to further reduce the thickness and weight by using thin-film batteries and organic materials.

Hiroki Ota, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Graduate School of System Integration Yokohama National University

The device was tested by the team on 50 babies, showing that at present, the device is not precise enough to satisfy clinical decision-making.

Ota added that the thickness of the device will be reduced and its flexibility will be increased, while enhancing the silicone interface to enable improved skin contact.

Going forward, the team plans to create an integrated treatment method that couples a wearable bilirubinometer with a phototherapy device to maximize the amount and duration of light therapy depending on constant measurements of bilirubin levels.

The study co-authors are first author Go Inamori, Umihiro Kamoto, Fumika Nakamura, Ryosuke Matsuda, and Masaki Shimamura from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Yokohama National University, and Yutaka Isoda from the Graduate School of System Integration at Yokohama National University.

Additional authors of the study are Azusa Uozumi and Shuichi Ito from the Department of Pediatrics, Graduate School of Medicine, Yokohama City University; and Yusuke Okubo from the Division of Cellular and Molecular Toxicology, Biological Safety and Research Center, National Institute of Health Sciences.

This study was financially supported by the Japanese Science and Technology Agency, Takeda Science Foundation Life Science Research Grants, MIC/SCOPE, the Ogasawara research grant, and Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development.

Journal Reference:

Inamori, G., et al. (2021) Neonatal wearable device for colorimetry-based real-time detection of jaundice with simultaneous sensing of vitals. Science Advances.

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