Researchers in Japan have developed the first wearable devices to accurately monitor jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin caused by high levels of bilirubin in the blood that can cause severe medical conditions in newborns. Jaundice can be easily treated by irradiating the infant with a blue light that breaks down bilirubin to be excreted through the urine. However, the treatment itself can disrupt bonding time, cause dehydration and increase the risk of allergic reactions. Neonatal jaundice is one of the leading causes of death and brain damage in infants in low- and middle-income countries.
To address the difficult balance of managing the exact amount of blue light needed to counteract minute levels of bilirubin, researchers developed the first wearable sensor for newborns capable of continuously measuring bilirubin. In addition to detecting bilirubin, the device can simultaneously detect pulse rate and blood oxygen saturation in real time.
Led by Hiroki Ota, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Yokohama National University’s Graduate School of System Integration, and Shoichi Ito, professor of pediatrics department at Yokohama City University School of Medicine, the team released their findings on March 3 on Science Advances.
“We have developed the world’s first multi-biotic wearable device for newborns that can measure newborn jaundice, blood oxygen saturation and pulse rate,” Ota said, noting that jaundice occurs in 60 to 80% of all newborns. “Real-time monitoring of jaundice is critical to the care of the newborn. Continuous measurements of bilirubin levels may improve the quality of light therapy and patient outcomes.”
Currently, medical professionals use portable bilirubin meters to measure bilirubin levels, but no device can measure jaundice and vital elements at the same time in real time.
“In this study, we succeeded in reducing the device to a size that can be worn on the forehead of a newborn,” said Ota. “By adding the pulse oximeter function to the device, many vital elements can be easily detected.”
The device is attached to the baby’s forehead by a silicone interface, and it contains a lens that is able to efficiently transmit lights to the skin of newborns via battery-powered light-emitting diodes, known as LEDs.
“At the present stage, coin cell batteries are being used, and the overall shape is very thick,” Ota said. “In the future, it will be necessary to further reduce thickness and weight by using thin-film batteries and organic materials.”
Researchers tested the device on 50 children, and found that the device is not currently accurate enough to make clinical decisions. According to Ota, it will reduce thickness and increase the elasticity of the device, as well as improve the silicone interface to facilitate better skin contact.
In the future, the researchers plan to develop a combined treatment approach that combines a wearable bilirubin meter and a phototherapy device to improve the amount and duration of phototherapy based on continuous measurements of bilirubin levels.
The co-authors are first author Go Inamori, Umihiro Kamoto, Fumika Nakamura, Ryosuke Matsuda and Masaki Shimamura, Department of Mechanical Engineering at Yokohama National University. Yutaka Isoda, Yokohama National University Graduate School of System Integration; Azusa Uzumi and Shoichi Ito, Department of Paediatrics, Graduate School of Medicine, Yokohama City University; Yosuke Okubo, Division of Cellular and Molecular Toxicology, Center for Biosafety and Research, National Institute of Health Sciences.
The Japan Science and Technology Agency, the Takeda Science Foundation Life Science Research Grant, MIC / SCOPE, the Ogasawara Research Grant and the Japan Medical Research and Development Agency funded this work.
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