Avoiding painful blood tests for babies | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - September 2015

Avoiding painful blood tests for babies

Dad Mark with baby SophieWhen Sophie was born, more than two months early and suffering from a rare congenital condition, she needed numerous blood tests. Action funding has helped doctors develop a new technique that could revolutionise monitoring for babies in special care.

When Sophie was first born doctors needed to take blood at least four times in a single hour to monitor her and check her response to vital medicines she was being given. This meant pricking her heel with a needle and squeezing blood onto a special card – a procedure known as a ‘heel-prick test’. During her first week of life she needed daily blood tests and had around 20 in total.

“It’s wasn’t nice at the start but we had to get used to it,” recalls her dad, Mark. “At first she was so sick she wasn’t really aware of the pain but later on she started to react more to the jab of the needle.”

Tiny newborn babies also have a limited blood supply, meaning it can be difficult to get enough blood to ensure drug levels can be sufficiently checked during what is such a crucial time.

Around one in nine babies born in the UK spends time in a neonatal unit – around 90,000 babies each year. Many depend on life-saving medicines.

In 2012 Professor Ryan Donnelly and his team at Queen’s University, Belfast, received Action funding to help fine tune and test the design of a new, minimally invasive way to monitor drug levels in sick babies.

The new technique uses a small patch on the skin, similar to a plaster. The surface is covered by hundreds of tiny ‘microneedles’, which puncture the outer layer of skin without causing bleeding or pain. They then swell to allow skin fluid to be collected and analysed for quick and frequent monitoring.

Their studies have shown that microneedles are effective and the team believes they could be commercially available for routine use in hospitals within five years.

This research has implications for sick and vulnerable babies worldwide, especially in the developing world. The team believes microneedles will be cheaper to produce and much easier to use than conventional needles.

This project was funded by a generous grant from The Henry Smith Charity.

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