A new method to monitor a baby's vitals promises a no-muss, no-fuss, and best of all, a cheaper alternative to the myriad of machinery, wires and tubes at the infant's bedside.
Thanks to the miracles of nanotechnology, scientists at the University of Sussex in England have been working with graphene, an ultra-miniaturized derivative of carbon atoms. When mixed with oil and water, the substance becomes durable, strong and flexible and can conduct electricity to the point where data from a baby can be easily carried to monitor read-outs.
Smithsonian Magazine reports that additional experiments reveal that when stretched, the graphene innovation was far more sensitive than the sensors currently being used to monitor factors including breathing, oxygen content in blood, body temperature, and heart rate. The Sussex researchers are currently working on a wireless prototype that would be used in the form of a small bracelet or tubes interwoven with the fabrics in the infant's clothing.
If successful, the device, in whatever form it takes, might be instrumental in detecting the cause of severe illnesses in newborns, especially those with sleeping problems. In particular, scientists are encouraged it could help in such disorders as sleep apnea and even Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Currently being experimented with in a tube form, the graphene device was created in response to a plea from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The organization put out a call for technology that would create portable, affordable and wearable equipment to measure the vitals of babies in more impoverished areas.
Although scientists have no idea on how to implement the innovation in a practical, real-world setting, they are looking at options that involve the product either being small enough to ship en masse - or include a component where monitoring of a baby could be performed remotely. So far, aside from the elements needed to create the graphene tube, no additional technology or expensive materials would be required for further development.
It's also been suggested that the graphene discovery benefits might even extend well beyond medicine. One researcher pointed out the very sensitivity of the innovation could be used in the architectural field, especially in detecting tiny vibrations in buildings located in geologically vulnerable areas, such as earthquake zones.
Source: Smithsonian Magazine