Most newborn babies undergo a simple heel prick blood test to look for metabolic disorders and rare diseases that might threaten their health. However, some babies are born with low blood sugar or are at risk of low blood sugar, which means they have to be poked in the heel again several times over the first few hours or days of life. And in some rare cases, infants can even be born with type 1 diabetes, meaning they’ll have to be pricked to test their blood sugar several times a day for the foreseeable future.
These extra heel pricks are no fun for baby or anyone else. Wearable biosensors are a non-invasive way to get the same information, but the bulky wearables are often too large to get a good reading on a newborn, especially a premature baby, and they can be uncomfortable as well.
So what’s a healthcare professional to do when a baby’s blood sugar needs to be monitored, but poking them in the heel sends them into a ferocious tantrum? Nobody likes to be pricked with a needle, and watching tiny newborns go through this pain is heartwrenching for parents and everyone else who witnesses it.
Luckily, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, are developing a better way to test babies’ blood glucose levels—with a pacifier. It sounds impossible, but trials are showing that the technology actually works.
The blood glucose-measuring pacifier measures the glucose levels in a baby’s saliva in real time. When the baby sucks on the pacifier, he or she helps the device get enough saliva to get a good reading. Healthcare professionals can then read the display to know whether the baby is within a healthy blood glucose range without drawing any blood.
The pacifier has not yet been tested on babies, but trials have been run on adults with type one diabetes, and researchers have seen promising results. All the data point to this being a great way to make sure newborns have blood glucose levels within a safe range.
If it works on babies as well, the device stands to be of help to the up to 15 percent of newborns born with low blood sugar, along with many more who are at risk of low blood sugar. Low blood glucose is the only common cause of preventable brain damage in infants, making the device’s work very important.
The pacifier could also be used on the small number of babies diagnosed with type 1 diabetes shortly after birth. Since many babies use pacifiers until they are a few years old, this device could eventually be something parents use in place of finger-prick tests to monitor their young children’s blood glucose.
What do you think of the blood glucose-monitoring pacifier? Would you use a device like this one for your child?
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?