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SENSOR TECHNOLOGY TO IMPROVE INFANT HEALTHCARE. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. I Case study 28.

A sensor device, originally designed by an EPSRC-supported student to monitor the health of workers in metal foundries, could help protect and save the most fragile lives on earth.

≥70,000. .

babies receive resuscitation at birth each year.

Around 70,000 babies receive resuscitation at birth each year in the UK to ensure their tiny hearts are beating fast enough to supply oxygen to their brain and vital organs. Typically, doctors use stethoscopes to measure the babies’ heart rates. But this cannot continually monitor a baby’s condition and resuscitation has to be suspended momentarily while doctors mentally count the beats.


> The sensor device allows clinicians to continue with resuscitation without interruption and so save valuable seconds in the important first stages of life. > The device will give clinicians an early warning of any unexpected or rapid change in a baby’s condition so they can intervene more rapidly. Analysing light. In 2003, University of Nottingham student, Mark Grubb was researching ways of monitoring the health of workers in metal foundries as part of his PhD. His work, which attracted sponsorship from the mining company Rio Tinto, centred on a novel optical sensor with wireless electronics that monitored the pulse and breathing rate of the wearer. The sensor deploys a low power light source that illuminates the skin. A corresponding detector measures how much light is absorbed and reflected back. The amount of light absorbed varies with the changing volume of blood under the skin as the heart beats. The sensor sends signals back to a small computer that continuously monitors both the heart and breathing rates.

A new approach to research. After finishing his PhD, Mark continued to work on the commercialisation potential of his patented work. A chance meeting between one of his PhD supervisors and medical colleagues at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham took his discovery in a new direction. Together they recognised the potential use of the sensor to measure the pulse, and potentially the breathing rate, of premature babies. With funding from the charity, Action Medical Research, the team modified the sensor to make it small enough to be placed on a baby’s forehead to measure heart rate on a continuous basis. A three phase clinical study started in December 2008, initially measuring the success of the device on stable newborn babies in the intensive care unit of Nottinghams’ Queen’s Medical Centre. This was followed by a second phase which validated the sensor on newborn babies delivered by elective caesarean. The final phase focussed on premature babies in the delivery room immediately after birth, the real target of the work. When the trials are completed this year, the sensor will have been used to record the heart rate of over 120 newborn babies. If the work is successful the team expect to commercialise the device and estimate the annual EU and US market could be £18m. For more information about EPSRC and the impact it is making visit

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