Smart "Suckable" Pacifier Is Designed to Monitor Newborn Babies Without Invasive Blood Draws

Designed to replace regular painful blood draws, this Bluetooth pacifier can track hydration levels non-invasively.

Researchers at Pukyong National University, the Yonsei University College of Medicine, Washington State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Wichita State University, and Georgia Tech and Emory University have developed a smart pacifier designed to do away with the need for painful blood draws when monitoring premature babies in intensive care.

“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," says Jong-Hoon Kim, associate professor at Washington State and co-corresponding author of the study revealing the work. "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."

Said device is about as non-invasive as you could imagine: It's a pacifier, originally developed — as the name makes clear — as a way of soothing and pacifying a baby. Based on a modified off-the-shelf pacifier, the team's electronic "suckable" samples saliva through microfluidic channels and measures sodium and potassium ion levels — transmitting the data over Bluetooth to a nearby data-gathering system for recording and long-term monitoring.

"You often see NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] 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," explains Kim of the team's overall vision. "We want to get rid of those wires."

The prototype, as tested, appears to show good stability and sensitivity for both measurements, which are used as a vital means to track babies' hydration levels and to avoid dehydration, but the team admits work still needs to be done on reducing the cost of the device and improving its end-of-life recylability.

The team's work has been published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics under closed-access terms.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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