Researchers based in Japan have created the first wearable device capable of precisely monitoring jaundice. The condition involves skin yellowing that is caused by elevated levels of bilirubin in the blood and can sometimes cause a host of severe medical conditions in new-born babies in developing countries

A solution for jaundice in newborns

Neonatal jaundice is among the leading causes of brain damage and death in infants born in low to middle-income nations, however, it is easily treatable by the infant being irradiated with a blue light that effectively breaks down the bilirubin present, allowing it to be voided via urination.

This type of treatment can be problematic, however, disrupting bonding time, causing dehydration, and increasing the potential risks from allergic diseases.

To help administer the accurate quantity of blue light required to counteract the precise bilirubin levels, researchers in Japan have now developed the first-ever sensor that is wearable for newborns and able to continuously measure bilirubin. The newly developed device can also detect saturation levels of blood oxygen and pulse rate simultaneously in real-time.

Associate professor at Yokohama National University, Hiroki Ota, commented:

“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.”

Made to measure technology

Currently, medical professionals use handheld meters to measure bilirubin levels, but there is not currently a device available on the market that can measure jaundice and vitals in real-time, at the same time.

The new wearable created by the team has seen them successfully miniaturise the technology available, making it so small it can easily be worn on a newborn baby’s forehead.

The researchers then added a pulse oximeter to the wearable enabling multiple types of vitals to be detected. A silicone interface holds the device in place, and it has a lens onboard that is capable of emitting the blue light required to the baby’s skin using battery-powered LEDs, allowing the excess bilirubin to be purged from their system without causing harm.

The team led by Ota and his colleague, Professor Shuichi Ito, has now published its results in Science Advances.

Image by Luigi Frunzio on Unsplash