Wireless patches can comfortably monitor sick babies’ health

baby wearing wire sensors
UNPLUGGED Ultrathin skin sensors that wirelessly stream vital-sign data to external devices could offer a less cumbersome way to monitor hospitalized infants than traditional, wire-tethered sensors (shown).

Wireless skin patches that measure a baby’s vital signs could offer a safer, more comfortable way of monitoring premature and sick infants in the hospital.

Each year, about 300,000 newborns are admitted to U.S. neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs, including preemies that are vulnerable to heart problems, breathing trouble and other medical complications (SN Online: 2/16/11). Doctors need to keep constant tabs on these tiny patients’ vital signs, and that typically involves outfitting a newborn with rigid sensors that are wired into machines around the baby’s cradle.

But adhesives on these sensors can harm an infant’s fragile skin, and they make it difficult for caregivers to hold the child, providing crucial skin-to-skin contact (SN Online: 3/22/17). The new wireless sensors, described in the March 1 Science, are designed to avoid those problems.

Each patch comprises an ultrathin layer of electronics sandwiched between sheets of flexible silicone. One patch, placed on an infant’s chest or back, uses electrodes to monitor the electrical activity of the baby’s heart (SN Online: 1/4/16). A second patch, worn on the hand or foot, shines LEDs on the baby’s appendage and measures how much illumination the tissue absorbs to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. Both sensors…

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