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Delivering Cutting Edge Care to Critically-ill Newborns

The Victorian government is investing in a world-first medical device that will help more critically ill newborns get access to potentially lifesaving care. The Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy announced that a Melbourne start-up would receive Au$50,000 as part of the AU$6 million Technology Adoption and Innovation Program, which helps small to medium-size enterprises develop new innovative technologies.

Each year, nearly 10,000 newborns receive lifesaving treatment through central venous catheters – thin flexible tubes inserted into the veins of patients to deliver fluids and medications. Without a way to pinpoint the exact location, around 40 per cent of catheters are inserted incorrectly or move after insertion, exposing patients to additional risks.

The start-up has created a device that records and analyses electrical signals from the heart, providing feedback on the position of the catheter in real-time. The new funding will help develop an advanced prototype of the device, enabling the start-up’s Neonav to reach a critical stage of product development. The medical device is already helping deliver life-saving treatment to babies at the Royal Women’s Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit, including babies like Nash Constable.

Nash was born in December 2020 at 28 weeks, weighing just 728 grams. After his family consented to be involved in the research, Nash had a catheter inserted using the new technology as part of an operation. Nash is now a healthy eight-month-old and his family are strong advocates for continued investment in newborn research.

The Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy stated that the government is backing innovative Victorian businesses because they know that new technologies have the potential to solve some of the biggest challenges and help people like the Constable family. By supporting medical innovation from idea to commercialisation, the government is helping develop world-first technology and delivering the best care for Victorians.

The Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Melbourne-based start-up noted that less than 5% of medical innovations that make it to market have a neonatal indication for use – there’s a huge market for products like the Neonav to assist in delivering the care critically ill newborns need.

Meanwhile, the Chief Executive of the Royal Women’s Hospital stated that research underpins the care that the hospital provides to babies in its Newborn Intensive Care Unit. Through this research, the hospital and its staff look forward to seeing the Navi team drive better health outcomes for premature babies.

OpenGov Asia recently reported that researchers at the University of South Australia have designed a computer vision system that can automatically detect a tiny baby’s face in a hospital bed and remotely monitor its vital signs from a digital camera with the same accuracy as an electrocardiogram machine. Using artificial intelligence-based software to detect human faces is now common with adults, but this is the first time that researchers have developed software to reliably detect a premature baby’s face and skin when covered in tubes, clothing, and undergoing phototherapy.

Engineering researchers and a neonatal critical care specialist from UniSA remotely monitored heart and respiratory rates of seven infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide, using a digital camera. The ‘baby detector’ was developed using a dataset of videos of babies in NICU to reliably detect their skin tone and faces. Vital sign readings matched those of an electrocardiogram (ECG) and in some cases appeared to outperform the conventional electrodes, endorsing the value of non-contact monitoring of pre-term babies in intensive care.

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