Written for Medtech1 by Allison Walker-Elders
In the United States, pneumonia takes between 40,000-70,000 lives annually. While this death toll is substantial, that of the developing world overshadows it by far. Pneumonia claims millions of lives each year. It is the leading cause of death for infants worldwide. In countries with infant mortality rates like that of Afghanistan, with 152 deaths per 1,000 live births, the effect of untreated pneumonia is disastrous.
In the Western world, infant mortality has been reduced to 6 deaths per 1,000 live births. A combination of improved sanitation and access to modern technology has allowed the vast majority of births in the United States to result in a healthy infant. In countries with low per-capita income, the luxury of a hospital and its medical expertise is inaccessible. Now, pediatric researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have developed a way to bring life-saving anti-pneumonic technology to patients in these developing countries.
“In the developed world, oxygen is delivered to these patients with devices that blend compressed oxygen and compressed air to provide accurate and precise concentrations and flow rates,” said Dr. Wally Carlo. Dr. Carlo is a neonatologist at UAB, and the lead researcher on this project. “Use of these blenders in developing countries is hindered by multiple factors, including cost, maintenance and lack of local availability of compressed air. These devices are expensive and somewhat complex, which further limits their use in developing countries. This novel system developed at UAB allows delivery of the exact oxygen concentration by pulling air from the environment using a commercially available device.”
This modified device is based on the blueprint for an oxygen-delivery system used with adult patients. The oxygen delivery method of this device is simple: a mask placed over the mouth and nose. It transports a mixture of the surrounding air and compressed oxygen at concentrations specific to the patient’s needs, allowing a proper delivery flow. The rate can be adjusted based on the size of the individual.
The team at UAB tested three delivery methods: the oxygen mask, the oxygen hood, and the nasal cannula. "We found that using a mask resulted in the delivery of oxygen concentrations that was accurate to the flow the entrainment device showed it was delivering," said Dr. Carlo. "The hood produced a similar profile of concentrations and flow rates but with even greater accuracy but the cannula did not deliver accurate oxygen concentrations."
The novelty of this device is in its versatility: both adults and children can benefit from it. Young children cannot use most oxygen devices due to the risks associated with prolonged oxygen treatment. An excessively-high concentration of oxygen increases the risk of an infant patient developing cerebral palsy or blindness, and may result in death. By altering the rate of oxygen flow per the patient’s need, the same technology can be used and healthcare providers can save money. The overall cost of treatment could be lowered. This allows patients with less money to spend on healthcare access to the same devices.
At this time, the research team wishes to begin clinical trials of the device. The plan is to test the device on infants and young children with chronic pneumonia in an effort to reduce mortality rates. A release date is not yet known for the commercialization of this device.
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Photo by Judy Baxter