The University of Nottingham has formed a new joint venture business with Derby based electronics specialist, Tioga, to develop a unique technology which will allow the continual monitoring of a baby’s heart rate during resuscitation.
Around 80,000 babies born in the UK every year are in need of some form of resuscitation. Delay with resuscitation can increase the chance a baby may develop brain damage or die. The best measure of the need for resuscitation, and how effective it is, is assessment of the newborn’s heart rate which is currently performed every 30 seconds with a stethoscope during the resuscitation process. However, this is subject to human error, delays the resuscitation and may fail to detect sudden problems.
The idea behind the HeartLight sensor is to allow doctors and midwives to continue resuscitating the baby without the need for frequent pauses to check the heart rate thus ensuring smoother and quicker resuscitation reducing the risk of long-term damage.
The technology was developed by a team (Professors Hayes-Gill, Crowe and Morgan along with Dr Mark Grubb) at the University’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) department, in collaboration with academic neonatologists (Dr Don Sharkey) in the University’s School of Medicine. ‘HeartLight’ uses a small optical sensor which is placed on the baby’s head and shines a special coloured light onto the skin tissue, and a sensor is able to detect each time a pulse occurs.
Funding for the initial development of HeartLight within the University came from a variety of different sources, including a series of early EPSRC awards and a children’s charity (Action Medical Research) which funded a two-year project in 2007 to enable researchers to evaluate use of the sensor in more than 90 babies. More recently the University was awarded a grant from the Medical Research Council to increase the number of babies recruited in the study to over 200.
Professor Barrie Hayes-Gill, from The University of Nottingham, led the team assessing the reliability and ease of use of the technology, and fine-tuning its design. The sensor was first tested in stable newborns, who didn’t need resuscitation. Then it was used during resuscitation of two groups of babies — some born at full term by planned caesarean section and other babies who were born very prematurely.
The new business with Tioga will be known as ‘HeartLight Systems Ltd’ and will work to make HeartLight a commercially viable product. A BioMedical Catalyst grant of £1.7m has recently been awarded by the funding agency Innovate UK (formerly Technology Strategy Board) to enable the company to further develop the technology towards clinical reality.
Tioga’s relationship with The University of Nottingham started just over four years ago, following a chance conversation between Professor Hayes-Gill and Warwick Adams, the Managing Director of Tioga. As Tioga undertakes work in the mining industry, Mr Adams was curious as to whether the technology could potentially be developed to monitor the wellbeing of miners while working underground, and a TSB Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP following on from an EPSRC KTS award) involving a post-doctoral engineer from the University was put into place to investigate this idea further.
Speaking about the formation of the new business, Professor Barrie Hayes-Gill, said: “The launch of HeartLight Systems Ltd is a very exciting development. It combines the academic, technology transfer and medical regulatory expertise of The University of Nottingham with the commercial know-how of Tioga. It means that we can offer prospective customers across the world the very best in research and manufacturing capabilities in a clinical setting.” Russell Hoyle, Chairman of Tioga, added: “I firmly believe that the opportunities for HeartLight are huge. With its potential applications in the medical and mining sectors, amongst others, it has tremendous potential for social impact. I’d like to thank Barrie and the rest of the team at the University for all their hard work in developing the technology, this is a very exciting project and we are really looking forward to partnering with them on the next stage of HeartLight’s journey.”
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