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New wireless system 'cuts the cord' from newborn patient monitoring approaches

February 28, 2019

A new, less invasive system for monitoring the vital signs of some of the world's most fragile patients - infants born pre-term or with debilitating disease - would allow parents skin-to-skin contact with these children when they otherwise couldn't have it. According to the report detailing this approach, the system overcomes the limitations of traditional systems that require a large number of wired sensors, allowing wireless operation via ultrathin skin-like electronic sensing techology. "[This study] belongs to a frontier in which physics, chemistry and engineering bring new options to the clinical care of incredibly fragile patients that challenge the limits of science, the preterm and/or the very sick newborn infants," writes Ruth Guinsburg in a related Perspective. Each year nearly 300,000 newborns, including preterm babies, are admitted to neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) throughout the United States. Preterm babies in particular typically require constant and careful monitoring of vital signs due to their exceptionally fragile health. Information such as temperature, heart and respiratory rate and blood pressure, for example, are crucial to improving a newborn's chance of survival. Often, in order to achieve this level of constant care, the use of multiple sensors and electrodes, attached to the infant's skin and tethered to surrounding medical devices by wires, is required. However, despite their essentiality, the web of connected technology can interfere with other types of clinical care or tests, and the electrodes can injure an infant's fragile skin. Furthermore, they greatly impede skin-to-skin contact, preventing parents from holding their newborn children. While alternative technologies have been proposed, none comprehensively address or overcome the unique and challenging requirements of the NICU and the tiny patients within, according to the authors. To answer this need, Ha Uk Chung and colleagues developed a wireless and battery-free vital signs monitoring system, which uses a pair of ultrathin skin-like sensors that rely on only water to gently adhere to sensitive neonatal skin. Chung et al.'s device is capable of collecting and processing full vital sign data onboard the sensors and wirelessly streaming it in real time to external devices. According to the authors, preliminary testing and ongoing clinical studies of the system on NICU neonates demonstrates its ability to perform comparably to the most advanced clinical-standards monitoring systems. In her Perspective, Guinsburg emphasizes the potential global application of this approach: "[It has] a huge potential to impact practice that might revolutionize monitoring all over the world," including in less developed countries.
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

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