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Researchers Aim to Improve Pediatric Care With Smart Pacifier

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   June 06, 2022

Researchers at Washington State University have added digital health sensors to a pacifier in an effort to help pediatric care providers, such as NICUs, monitor and treat infants for dehydration.

Researchers at Washington State University have developed a pacifier fitted with digital health sensors that's designed to help care providers continuously monitor sodium and potassium ion levels, two key indicators of dehydration in infants.

In a study profiled in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, the smart pacifier proved as effective in identifying dehydration as the standard practice of drawing blood, with much less stress.

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

The pacifiers contain sensors that measure sodium and potassium in saliva, relaying that data through the cloud via a Bluetooth connection to an app on the caregiver's phone, tablet or laptop.

Aside from the challenges of drawing blood samples from infants, especially those born prematurely, the smart pacifier offers care providers an opportunity to view continuous data, rather than relying on information gathered once or twice a day. And the platform could eventually be expanded to include more sensors tracking more biometric data points.

The technology holds promise for neonatal intensive care units, where care providers are charged with treating some of the most fragile patients in the hospital system.

“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,” Kim said. “We want to get rid of those wires.”

Beyond that setting, the smart pacifier could be used in pediatric clinics, medical offices, even in remote patient monitoring programs that allow healthcare providers to track their young patients' progress at home.

Researchers say the next step is to reduce the cost of the smart pacifier by using more affordable and recyclable materials, and to expand the study to more health systems to establish efficacy.

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.

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