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Medical Devices and Healthcare IT

Watch How a Handheld Device Detects Neonatal Jaundice

12 December 2017

Jaundice affects about 60 percent of newborns and can cause brain damage or even death if left untreated. In sub-Saharan Africa, where doctors often don't have access to expensive diagnostic equipment, babies are 100 times more likely to die of the condition than are infants in the U.S. A new low-cost device could drastically reduce that number.

The handheld battery-powered device developed by a Rice University initiative quantifies bilirubin levels from a BiliSpec is a low-cost, battery-powered reader designed to diagnose jaundice by immediately quantifying serum bilirubin levels from a small drop of whole blood. Source: Jeff Fitlow/Rice UniversityBiliSpec is a low-cost, battery-powered reader designed to diagnose jaundice by immediately quantifying serum bilirubin levels from a small drop of whole blood. Source: Jeff Fitlow/Rice Universitydrop of blood within about two minutes. A clinical trial conducted in Malawi demonstrated that the BiliSpec tool delivers accuracy comparable to the more expensive laboratory tests found in high-resource settings. Each BiliSpec assay costs about 5 cents and can be performed at the patient’s bedside.

A drop of whole blood from a heel prick is placed onto an inexpensive, disposable lateral flow strip. The reader then displays a digital report of the bilirubin concentration by measuring the light transmitted through the serum on the detection strip.

BiliSpec is one component of a 17-piece neonatal package called NEST, short for Newborn Essential Solutions and Technologies designed specifically for African hospitals.

“The next step is a larger, two-year follow-up study of efficacy and usability that will be conducted at five hospitals in Malawi,” said Pelham Keahey, an applied physics graduate student. The university won funding for the follow-up study from Saving Lives at Birth, a joint undertaking by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the governments of Norway, Canada and South Korea.

Results of the clinical study are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To contact the author of this article, email sue.himmelstein@ieeeglobalspec.com


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