Image of Prototype Wearable Device
An early prototype of the miniaturized, wearable device that will one day monitor infants’ blood oxygen levels. (Credit: Worcester Polytechnic Insstitute)

A sensor the size of a Band-Aid that will measure a baby’s blood oxygen levels, a vital indication of the lungs’ effectiveness and whether the baby’s tissue is receiving adequate oxygen supply. Unlike current systems used in hospitals, this miniaturized wearable device will be flexible and stretchable, wireless, inexpensive, and mobile — possibly allowing the child to leave the hospital and be monitored remotely.

The device is designed to measure PO2, or the partial pressure of oxygen, which indicates the amount of oxygen dissolved in the blood — a more accurate indicator of respiratory health than a simple oxygen saturation measurement, which can be easily taken with a pulse oximetry device gently clamped on a finger. And measuring the PO2 level via a noninvasive device attached on the skin is as accurate as a blood test.

The wearable baby oxygen monitor also would be useful for adults, especially people with severe asthma and seniors with COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which is an incurable, progressive lung disease and the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers will modify the wearable for adults, and create a related smartphone app, in another phase of her research.

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