‘Smart’ pacifier could warn of dehydration in newborns

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Currently, in order to check electrolyte levels in newborns, blood samples are taken from infants twice a day. Soon, however, a “smart” pacifier could be used to noninvasively collect that same data.

Monitoring electrolytes in newborns is very important, as low levels indicate that the infant is becoming dehydrated – this is an especially common problem in babies born prematurely. And while these electrolytes are present in the bloodstream, they are also found in corresponding amounts in the saliva.

With this fact in mind, a Washington State University team led by Assoc. Professor Jong-Hoon Kim developed the new experimental pacifier. It incorporates a commercially available pacifier, to which electronic components have been added.

When an infant suckles the device, saliva is naturally drawn from their mouth into a series of built-in microfluidic channels – no pumping mechanism required. Sensors in these channels detect and measure the concentrations of sodium and potassium ions in saliva. This data is transmitted via Bluetooth to a caregiver’s mobile device, where it is displayed on an app screen.

Although other systems have been developed to provide real-time analysis of infant saliva, most have been considerably larger and less efficient than the pacifier.

Washington State University

When the pacifier was tested on babies in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, the electrolyte readings reported by the device were found to be consistent with those obtained by traditional blood sampling. Additionally, the pacifier provided this data continuously, as long as it was in each infant’s mouth.

“Normally in a hospital environment they draw blood from the baby twice a day, so they only get two data points,” Kim said. “This device is a non-invasive way to monitor babies’ electrolyte levels in real time.”

Scientists are now working to make the device cheaper and more recyclable, and they plan to conduct larger-scale trials. An article about their research was recently published in the journal Biosensors and bioelectronics.

A previously unrelated smart pacifier, created by a team at the University of California, San Diego, measures glucose concentrations in saliva.

Source: Washington State University

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