Like Getting Your Blood Drawn? Neither Does a Tiny Baby!

To many adults, who understand, blood draws are not something they look forward to. Imagine being a newborn, either premature or with health issues that doesn’t understand why someone is painfully sticking their tiny arm and making them cry, much less two times a day. Add all the other tubes and wires and they are terrified. Surely this has a traumatic impact that will stay with them forever, even when they do know why.

Enter the smart pacifier. A wireless, bioelectronic pacifier could eliminate the need for invasive, twice-daily blood draws to monitor babies’ electrolytes in Newborn Intensive Care Units or NICUs. This smart pacifier can also provide more continuous monitoring of sodium and potassium ion levels. These electrolytes help alert caregivers if babies are dehydrated, a danger for infants, especially those born prematurely or with other health issues.

Researchers tested the smart pacifier on a selection of infants in a hospital, and the results were comparable to data gained from their normal blood draws. They detailed their findings in a proof-of-concept study published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

“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,” said Jong-Hoon Kim, associate professor at the Washington State University School of Engineering and Computer Science and a co-corresponding author on the study. “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.”

Using a common, commercially available pacifier, the researchers created a system that samples a baby’s saliva through microfluidic channels. Whenever the baby has the pacifier in their mouth, saliva is naturally attracted to these channels, so the device doesn’t require any kind of pumping system. The channels have small sensors inside that measure the sodium and potassium ion concentrations in the saliva. Then this data is relayed wirelessly and painlessly using Bluetooth to the caregiver.

For the next step of development, the research team plans to make the components more affordable and recyclable. Then, they will work to set up a larger test of the smart pacifier to establish its efficacy. Kim said development of this device is part of a broader effort to help make NICU treatment less disruptive for their tiny patients.

“You often see NICU 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,” said Kim. “We want to get rid of those wires.”

Along with Kim of WSU, co-authors on this study include researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and Pukyong National University and Yonsei University College of Medicine in South Korea.

Marcee Maylin has a degree in Editorial Journalism from the University of Washington and 30+ years media experience. She is currently the Editor of the Everett Post dedicated to providing current, relevant, and entertaining content for the local community.