The University of Nottingham has formed a joint venture business with electronics firm Tioga to develop a technology that 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. Delays in resuscitation can increase the chance a baby may develop brain damage or die.

Image © iStock/piskunov
Image © iStock/piskunov

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, can delay the resuscitation and may fail to detect sudden problems.

The idea behind the venture partners' 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 at the university’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) department, in collaboration with academic neonatologists at 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.

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.

New business

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 £1.7 million has recently been awarded by the funding agency Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board) to enable the company to further develop the technology towards clinical reality.

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.”

Susan Huxtable, director of intellectual property and commercialisation at the University of Nottingham, said: “The establishment of Heartlight Systems Ltd and the investment via the BioMedical Catalyst Grant will enable the company to move forward in its aim to commercialise this exciting technology. It has taken a great team effort to get Heartlight to the position where it is today, and the technology is a great example of how University of Nottingham research has the potential to really benefit society more widely.”