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Revolutionising Fabric-Based KMC Monitoring in the U.S.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has championed Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), a practice involving chest-to-chest skin contact between an infant and a caregiver, since 2003. According to WHO’s 2023 report, KMC reduces neonatal mortality by 32%, making it a critical standard of care for low-birth-weight (LBW) infants worldwide.

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Continuous monitoring of KMC is vital for the early identification of potentially life-threatening issues and fostering strong caregiver-infant bonds. These benefits include increased weight gain, decreased stress levels, and earlier hospital discharge. Particularly in resource-limited areas, KMC proves highly effective for neonatal care. Accurate monitoring of KMC sessions and infant vital signs also yields valuable data for advancing clinical research.

Current KMC monitoring methods, however, could be more challenging. Manual efforts are cumbersome and error-prone, while rigid, adhesive sensors and wires can damage newborns’ delicate skin.

Enter Columbia Engineering’s solution. Led by Xia Zhou, an associate professor of computer science, the team has developed innovative digital technology focusing on wireless systems and mobile health. Sparked by a conversation with Fred Jiang, an associate professor of electrical engineering, Zhou’s team pursued a fabric-based approach to KMC monitoring.

Recognising the clinical importance of electrocardiogram (ECG) waveforms, the team created Joey—a lightweight, soft fabric necklace worn by the caregiver. Joey continuously monitors the duration of chest-to-chest contact and two vital signs: heart rate and respiration rate.

Joey leverages the transmission of ECG signals during skin-to-skin contact, using fabric sensors to measure cardiac activity. The system detects mixed ECG signals from both individuals, accurately measuring contact duration. Zhou’s team developed algorithms to extract infants’ ECG signals for vital sign monitoring, ensuring reliable and accurate data despite motion.

Tests with 35 participants demonstrated Joey’s 96% accuracy in estimating KMC duration and clinically acceptable accuracy for vital sign estimations. Pediatricians at Columbia University Irving Medical Centre confirmed Joey’s clinical usability. The system’s robustness against motion noise, washing, and skin condition variations underscores its practical viability.

This development highlights the transformative potential of integrating digital technology into healthcare, particularly neonatal care. As digital technology continues to evolve, innovations like Joey will play a crucial role in improving healthcare outcomes and advancing medical research.

The technology behind Joey represents a significant advancement in the field of mobile health and wireless systems. This innovation exemplifies how digital technology can be used to address real-world healthcare challenges.

Joey’s fabric-based sensors are a testament to the ingenuity of everyday materials used for high-tech applications. The soft, lightweight design ensures that the device is comfortable for caregivers to wear, thereby promoting prolonged use and better monitoring outcomes. The elimination of rigid, adhesive sensors and wires is a significant improvement, reducing the risk of skin breakdown and irritation for newborns.

The use of fabric sensors also opens up new possibilities for future applications in healthcare. Joey’s success in monitoring KMC suggests that similar fabric-based technologies could be developed for other types of physiological monitoring. This could include monitoring patients with chronic conditions, elderly individuals, or even athletes. The versatility and comfort of fabric-based sensors make them an attractive option for a wide range of health monitoring needs.

Furthermore, Joey’s development underscores the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in driving innovation. The project brought together experts in computer science, electrical engineering, and neonatology, combining their knowledge and skills to create a truly innovative solution. This collaborative approach is essential for tackling complex healthcare challenges and developing technologies that can make a real difference in people’s lives.

Joey’s development represents a significant step forward in the use of digital technology in healthcare. As the world continues to explore the possibilities of digital health, the integration of technologies like Joey will play a crucial role in shaping the future of neonatal care and beyond.03


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