Rice University students have developed an inexpensive, battery-powered neonatal monitor for infants that could save many lives in the developing world.
Five bioengineering students created the Babalung Apnea Monitor for a yearlong senior capstone project that is required of all graduating engineering students at Rice. The device consists of a small electronic microcontroller connected to an adjustable strap with a stretch sensor.
Team Breath Alert Rachel Alexander, Rachel Gilbert, Jordan Schermerhorn, Bridget Ugoh and Andrea Ulrich began with the knowledge that nearly half of the 12 million babies born prematurely in developing countries experience episodes of apnea, a sudden stoppage of breathing. In general, a tap on the foot can prompt the child to resume breathing, but the widespread occurrence of the problem means there isn't always someone available to administer that simple remedy.
The Babalung may be the next best thing, an ingenious combination of low- and high-tech that tries on its own to restart a baby's breathing and raises a flag if it can't, the students said.
The first line of defense is the elastic sensor contained within the strap surrounding the infant's chest. "The strap expands and contracts, which the system sees as a sine wave," said Ulrich. When the wave stops for 20 seconds, the attached microcontroller turns on a vibrating motor to prompt the infant to take a breath. If the child still isn't breathing five seconds later, a visual alarm is triggered.
"We thought about an audio alarm, but there's the risk that a nurse wouldn't hear it in a large room. And an alarm loud enough to hear might damage the baby's hearing," Alexander said.
"So we went with a flashing bike light raised above the crib, so you can see it across a room," Gilbert said. "Now we're doing research into what frequencies of pulsation attract the most attention."
"This team has worked tirelessly to
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