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Research into skin collection of blood chemistry from babies seeks to replace invasive blood sampling

Scientists at the University of Strathclyde are researching a system to measure and monitor blood chemistry levels in premature and sick babies through their skin, which if successful, could eventually replace the need for invasive blood tests.

 When babies are born early or sick there is a medical need to track levels of electrolytes such as glucose, lactate, sodium and potassium in their bodies, as the balance of these can be critical.

The levels are currently measured by heel stick blood tests or blood taken from a vein, which can be distressing and risk depleting the blood at the time when the infants in the neonatal intensive care unit are already vulnerable.

The University team is researching whether levels of glucose and lactate can instead be accurately collected through the skin. A clinical trial is in progress with the medical team at the Neonatal Unit of the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow.

If the technique is found to work, it will be transferred into a future medical device in the form of a wireless patch sensor that could be used for any sick baby.

Professor Patricia Connolly from Biomedical Engineering at Strathclyde, said: “At the moment, the blood chemistry on the babies is measured by taking a blood sample through a heel prick capillary or through a vein, which needs to be performed regularly.

“Our technology is aimed at removing the need for that because many of these molecules and ions will also come through the skin.

“Instead of actually having to take blood, our trial is using a skin patch that will collect glucose and lactate.

“We can collect the levels in a special type of gel electrode, and the levels are also compared to the level of glucose in the blood samples that are still being routinely taken by medical staff.

“Through our research we aim to show that what we take through the skin can be calibrated against what’s in the blood."

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