Toxic decomposition products of the blood pigment haemoglobin are deposited in the skin of newborns with jaundice. Treatment involves placing them in an incubator under shortwave light.
Researchers at the Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) in St.Gallen have now come up with an alternative that does not require separating newborns from their mothers. Instead of an isolating incubator, they are treated by means of illuminated pyjamas.
To do this, the scientists created textiles with optically conductive fibres woven into them. The optical fibres are woven into a satin material together with conventional thread. Battery-operated LEDs serve as a light source for the light-conducting threads, and the light supply is distributed evenly throughout the fabric. To emit the light most efficiently onto the newborn’s skin, the researchers had to determine the appropriate angle at which the threads must be bent during weaving.
The photonic textiles can be made into a romper or a sleeping bag, allowing the newborn to be treated while being held in its mother’s arms or during feeding. As the textiles only radiate light inward onto the baby’s skin, the newborn no longer has to wear a protective mask, which is required in conventional treatment in an incubator to protect the baby’ sensitive eyes.
The product will now be commercialized. “The photonic textiles are washable and tolerated well by the skin,” the researcher Maike Quandt said in a statement.
For now, the prototype radiates blue light at a lower light intensity. “For commercial production, the light intensity of the pyjamas must therefore be increased somewhat,” added Quandt. The researchers do not regard this as problematic as it simply requires the use of stronger LEDs.