Hands-free heart rate sensor could provide lifeline for newborn babies undergoing resuscitation | Action Medical Research

Hands-free heart rate sensor could provide lifeline for newborn babies undergoing resuscitation

5 May 2009

Clinicians and engineers at The University of Nottingham are developing a unique, new way of measuring the heart rate of newborn babies undergoing resuscitation in the first critical minutes after birth.  Researchers funded by leading charity Action Medical Research are developing the Heartlight Sensor, a small, electronic, hands-free device that is placed on the baby’s forehead underneath a specially made hat.  It is designed to give a continuous indication of the baby’s heart rate in both audible and visible forms without interrupting the resuscitation procedure. 

One in ten of all newborn babies, approximately 70,000[1],[2] each year in the UK, need some form of resuscitation at birth to help them breath properly and ensure their heart is beating quickly enough to pump oxygen around their bodies.  Currently midwives and doctors, who often carry out the resuscitation, have to keep stopping to listen to and calculate the baby’s heart rate therefore interrupting resuscitation, making the process more stressful than it need be.  The Heartlight Sensor will allow the care of the baby to proceed in the confidence that the baby continues well and will give early warning of the need for extra care. Prolonged resuscitation can lead to an increased risk of the baby developing long-term complications such as neurological disabilities and developmental impairment. 

Commenting on the research: Dr Yolande Harley of Action Medical Research: “This is an exciting new development that could significantly improve the outcomes for babies who require resuscitation at birth.  A device that gives a continuous reading of the baby’s heart rate could be a major breakthrough.”

Preliminary tests with the Heartlight Sensor have been carried out in 25 adults and have proved successful.  Researchers are currently evaluating the sensor in more than 140 babies to assess its reliability, ease of use, and based on these findings, they will fine-tune its design.  First, the monitor is being trialled in newborn babies who don’t need resuscitation followed by a second phase where it will be tested in babies born at full term by planned caesarean section and a third phase where babies are born very prematurely. 

Dr Don Sharkey, researcher and clinician, Division of Human Development, University Hospital, Nottingham says:  “This research is a successful collaboration between clinicians and engineers and our prototype device could lead to more effective resuscitation of newborn babies and reduce the risk of long-term complications.  It could also have other applications including acting as a potential early warning sign in newborn babies en route to intensive care if their condition deteriorates.”

The monitor could reduce the time needed to stabilise a newborn baby: the sooner the baby is stabilised, the quicker cuddling and bonding can take place with the parents, at this very important time for both the baby and the parents.

The Heartlight Sensor builds on the research carried out by the same team that developed the Monica AN24 foetal heart rate monitor, which is now being used routinely in clinics in Europe.  This Monica device was also funded by Action Medical Research in its early research period at the University of Nottingham.

The benefits of effective resuscitation via the Heartlight device are several including reducing the risk of the baby developing long-term complications such as brain damage or respiratory illness, and as a result lead to long-term cost savings to the NHS.  If these trials prove successful it is expected that the Heartlight device will also end up in our clinics in the same way that the Monica AN24 has been so successful.

For further information please contact:

Tola Awogbamiye at Action Medical Research
Tel: 01403 327493
Email: tola@action.org.uk

Emma Thorne
Media Relations Manager
The University of Nottingham
Direct line: 0115 951 5793 

Notes to editors:

Action Medical Research is a leading, national medical research charity.  For nearly 60 years we have been instrumental in significant medical breakthroughs including the development of the UK polio vaccine and ultrasound scanning in pregnancy.  Our research helps babies and children affected by disease and disability.  We are currently funding research into serious diseases and conditions, including meningitis, pneumonia, cerebral palsy and inflammatory bowel disease. 

Our special appeal, Touching Tiny Lives, funds vital research to help the most vulnerable babies in this country. More research is needed to ensure that all babies, especially babies born prematurely, have the best possible start in life. To date this appeal has raised almost £4m to fund more than 35 high-quality medical research projects into pregnancy complications and premature birth.

(1) 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.
(2) Office for National Statistics. Health Statistics Quarterly 35 (Autumn 2007), Table 2.1: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_health/HSQ35.pdf

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