It is difficult to overstate the pace of technological advancement in the twenty-first century. Most of us are old enough to remember the days before the internet, before smartphones, before IMDB and Wikipedia gave us instant answers to all of life’s questions, and before Netflix replaced our shelves upon shelves of VHS tapes. But something we don’t think about quite as much is the application of developed technology to healthcare.
There are few things as important to us as our children. The plight of newborn babies tugs at the heartstrings of even the most callous among us. And our collective investment in improving techniques and technologies to improve healthcare outcomes for these tiny treasures reflects this priority. These are just a few developing devices and amazing advances in neonatal care.
Pulmonary Function Tests
One of the most challenging elements of neonatal care is the infant’s lung capacity and function. Early detection of lung problems could save many lives. Current methodology for testing lung function is improving by leaps and bounds, leading to earlier detection and better diagnoses for infants with pulmonary disorders such as apnea or hypoxemia.
Last year, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia doctors reported a surprisingly successful experiment. According to a Wall Street Journal article, “they kept premature lambs alive in a bag of fluid for longer and with better health outcomes than in previous artificial-womb experiments.” While the technology still needs some improvements before wide-scale deployment for human children, the concept is promising. These fluid-filled bags, complete with an artificial placenta, will effectively allow doctors to treat premies as a fetus, rather than a newborn – potentially saving the lives of infants with underdeveloped lungs.
The implications of Big Data on modern society are still not totally obvious. Mankind has amassed more information in the past thirty years than all previous generations combined. As you read this, data scientists are analyzing millions of records and looking for predictive trends in complex systems such as weather patterns, the stock market, and in the human body.
One of the many interesting applications of predictive analytics is the ability to analyze infant vital metrics in real time and predict illnesses and detect injuries faster and earlier, leading to lower infant mortality. According to a paper published in Frontiers in Pediatrics, “The high volume of data generated in an NICU with a velocity of hundreds of data points per patient-minute can be used for predictive monitoring. This involves analyzing physiological data to identify infants at high risk and detect illness in an early stage”
Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Machine
This device can be thought of as an artificial lung that operates outside the infant’s body. It’s very similar to a heart-lung machine. Blood from the infant is circulated into the machine, cleaned of carbon dioxide, enriched with fresh oxygen, and circulated back into the baby’s bloodstream.
We all care deeply about the rising generation. Luckily for those of us in developed nations, the best minds on the planet are dedicated to improving the quality of care and developing innovations that will reduce infant mortality by leaps and bounds.
Image Credit: Guardian Angel Adoptions