New heart rate monitor for babies who need resuscitation at birth
This research was completed on 4 May 2010
Published on 29 August 2007
Each year in the UK, around 70,000 babies need some form of resuscitation in the vital few minutes immediately after birth.1,2 Currently, the best way to assess a baby's response is to measure the heart rate by listening with a stethoscope. But this can interrupt the resuscitation procedure. Crucial seconds can be lost, potentially delaying successful resuscitation. Researchers hope a new, electronic heart rate sensor will help overcome this problem.
What's the problem and who does it affect?
Losing precious seconds can put babies at risk
A staggering one in ten of all newborn babies needs some form of resuscitation at birth to get them breathing properly and ensure their heart is beating quickly enough to pump oxygen around their tiny bodies.1 With the right help, most babies do well. Without it, they are at risk of developing permanent brain damage or even dying.
Midwives often have to start resuscitation single-handedly in the delivery room. To check whether resuscitation is working, and assess whether the baby is getting the right sort of help, the midwife has to keep stopping - to listen to the baby's heart beat with a stethoscope and quickly calculate the heart rate.
When battling to save a struggling baby while anxious parents look on, this cumbersome yet important assessment of the baby's heart rate can be subject to human error. It is neither instantaneous nor continuous, meaning the baby's condition can deteriorate between measurements without anyone realising. It also interrupts the resuscitation procedure and may prolong the time it takes to stabilise the baby. This loss of precious seconds can place vulnerable newborns at increased risk.
What is the project trying to achieve?
A hands-free heart rate sensor
Researchers are developing a small, electronic heart rate sensor for use during resuscitation of newborn babies. It's designed to give a continuous indication of the baby's heart rate, in both audible and visible forms, without interrupting the resuscitation procedure, so removing the need for a stethoscope.
The tiny, hands-free device is placed on the baby's forehead, underneath a specially made hat. It works by using light waves to detect changes in the skin that occur with the throb of the baby's pulse.
Preliminary tests of the new heart rate monitor in 25 adults have already proved successful. In this project, researchers are evaluating use of the monitor in over 90 babies. They are assessing its reliability and ease of use, and fine-tuning its design. First, the monitor is being tested in stable newborns, who don't need resuscitation. Then it is being used during resuscitation of two groups of babies - some born at full term by planned caesarean section and other babies who are born very prematurely.
What are the researchers' credentials?
|Project Leader||Dr B R Hayes-Gill PhD|
|Location||School of Electric & Electronic Engineering, Nottingham University and Academic Division of Child Health, University Hospital, Nottingham|
|Grant awarded||29 May 2007|
|Start date||1 March 2008|
|End date||4 May 2010|
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The research team has an impressive track record. With help from earlier funding by Action Medical Research, they have already achieved a major medical breakthrough - the design and development of a new fetal heart rate monitor (now being trialed by Monica Healthcare Ltd), which can offer obstetricians unrivalled insight into the working of unborn babies' hearts and could in the future help save hundreds of infant lives a year. Small enough for women to use at home, the monitor can pick up an unborn baby's heartbeat clearly and can be used for a much longer period of time than other currently-available technology.
The researchers in the project team are now well placed to succeed in their efforts to put a second monitor in the hands of clinicians, this time to assess the heart rate of newborns. Close collaboration between this experienced and talented group of engineers, nurses and clinicians should ensure the new monitor satisfies users' needs.
Who stands to benefit from this research and how?
Giving newborns a better start in life
Researchers hope that the new heart rate monitor could eventually benefit every baby who needs some form of resuscitation at birth - that's 70,000 babies each year in the UK.
The monitor is designed to save valuable seconds in the first few minutes of a vulnerable newborn's life. By giving a continuous, hands-free recording of the baby's heart rate, it should allow the midwife or doctor to concentrate on giving the baby the best possible type of resuscitation, and so the best chance of a healthy start in life.
Researchers believe that the monitor may reduce the time taken to stabilise a newborn baby. This has obvious benefits for anxious new parents - the sooner their baby is stabilised, the sooner cuddling and bonding can begin.
For the babies who don't fare so well and need further help, the monitor would be an ideal way of assessing them en-route to intensive care, giving an early warning should their condition deteriorate.
Researchers think that more effective resuscitation may also help reduce a baby's chances of developing long-term complications, such as brain damage, respiratory illness and even blindness. Long-term cost benefits to the NHS could prove significant. Benefits to babies and their parents would, of course, be priceless.
- The International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR) Consensus on Science with Treatment Recommendations for Pediatric and Neonatal Patients: Neonatal Resuscitation. Pediatrics 2006;117;978-88.
- Office for National Statistics. Health Statistics Quarterly 35 (Autumn 2007), Table 2.1: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_health/HSQ35.pdf.