INCUBABY NEONATAL INCUBATOR
Global Health Challenge:
Newborn infants are thermally unstable, especially if born prematurely. They are born wet with amniotic fluid and if not dried quickly and kept warm they rapidly get cold and cannot rewarm themselves. Cold babies become acidotic and are prone to infection and respiratory distress with a high mortality. Hypothermia is common in under-resourced settings; in Ethiopia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, over half of newborns evaluated were hypothermic. Our team observed this firsthand when we monitored admission temperatures of babies with respiratory distress at central and district hospitals in Malawi. Three-fourths of babies, most of whom were born in-hospital, were admitted with hypothermia. Average admission temperature was 35.1o C, nearly 2.0o C degrees below normal. Estimates suggest that rapid recognition and treatment of hypothermia could prevent up to 40% of neonatal deaths. In one large study, the risk of mortality associated with hypothermia increased by approximately 80% for every degree drop in a baby’s first recorded temperature. In lower resource settings the tools and processes to keep babies warm are lacking resulting in needless mortality and morbidity.
Rice 360° Solution:
Incubaby is a double-walled incubator that addresses the shortcomings of incubators used in low-resource settings. Incubaby is made from laser cut wood and plexiglass. Two electronically controlled electric blankets between the inner and outer walls provide a regulated source of heat and serves as a source of thermal mass to retain heat in case of power outage. Temperature probes on the infant and in the box send readings to a mircrocotroller that automatically regulates the temperature of the incubator. Results show a newborn mannequin initially at 35o C can be warmed to 37o C in 20 min. and maintained at normal temperature thereafter. Hypothermia is the leading cause of death of neonates in the developing world, and often occurs in conjunction with other health concerns treated by other Rice360° devices. IncuBaby provides a safe option for treating hypothermia through a device that incorporates temperature feedback, ensuring that the infant does not overheat while left unattended.
Current Status and Next Steps:
Due to the support of the Global Innovation Fellowship Program, Rice 360° is continuing the development of IncuBaby following a Rice bioengineering senior design team and OEDK summer interns. A new prototype has been designed and built that incorporates feedback from the student teams, healthcare professionals in Malawi, and Rice360 engineers to improve the safety and heating capabilities of the device. After further benchtop testing to verify device safety and performance, IncuBaby will undergo clinical trials for accuracy and usability at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.