How to save lives and the eyesight of premature infants

System for monitoring oxygen treatment in neonatal care

How to save lives and the eyesight of premature infants

“Too much oxygen causes severe eye damage, too little increases the risk of brain injury and death”, says Kenneth Danehorn, Master of Engineering in technical physics and electrotechnology at the Institute of Technology at Linköping University.

There is an optimal level, but to maintain it requires continuous and exact measurement of two different values: the degree of saturation of bound oxygen and oxygen pressure. This is currently not possible, depending among other things on the fact that we cannot take blood samples as often as necessary – the infant has too little blood and the risk of infection is too great.

Oxygen pressure is crucial

“Oxygen can bind to the blood in two different ways. Either to the red blood cells, which can each bind four oxygen molecules. This value is called the degree of saturation. Blood plasma also binds oxygen, which is indicated as oxygen pressure. It is above all the oxygen pressure that determines the oxygen exchange between arterial blood and the cells requiring oxygen.

If the pressure is too low, the oxygen supply to vital organs is insufficient. If it is too high, the oxygen supply becomes excessive, causing damage to the eyes.

“When oxygen treatment began in the 60s, all premature infants were given 100 per cent oxygen – and all of them became blind”, says Kenneth Danehorn.

Sensor finds optimal level

Now there is a solution. Kenneth and his team have developed a sensor, which is introduced into one of the navel arteries through a millimetre-thin catheter and into the descending aorta.

“Through the sensor, we can continuously monitor[NT1] [LN2]  the central oxygen pressure and find the optimal level of oxygen supply.

A three-year verification phase has been completed, clinical collaboration has been established with Karolinska University Hospital and patent applications have been submitted. Since April 2017, the formal product development has been underway and is to lead to a CE-certified product.

Establishment – and further development

“In Europe, there are approximately 80 000 infants in our patient group every year, and as many in the USA. Globally, there are many more premature infants, but only a small number of them receive advanced intensive care. Our strength is scalability – if we can establish ourselves within neonatal care, we can expand to general intensive care”, says Kenneth Danehorn, who believes that the product will be on the European market and on its way to the US within five years.

“Swelife’s support has enabled us to conduct the technical verifications, including a necessary animal experiment, but not least, it has made us investable. We have received money from the EU for product development and have formed a consortium with a German catheter manufacturer. In the long term, I see us as a Swedish medtech company with many employees, where we continuously further develop the technology for new applications together with other research teams.”

Text: Jörgen Olsson

Updated: 6 December 2017