Student Entrepreneurs Develop New Technology for Newborns

By Jane Whitttington on July 20th, 2015 / Comments

Some sixty percent of babies are born with some degree of jaundice. Characterized by a yellowing of the skin and eyes, jaundice is caused by an excess of bilirubin, a yellow pigment of red blood cells. It is especially prevalent in babies who are premature and/or breast fed. In fact, about 80 percent of premature babies are born with jaundice. Often treatment isn’t necessary, and jaundice goes away on its own. Moderate cases respond well to treatment. In particularly severe cases which are untreated or inadequately treated, jaundice can be so extreme that it can cause brain damage.

The main treatment for jaundice is phototherapy or light therapy using a specially designed box where the baby lies under lights. Because of the brightness, the baby wears protective eye covering. There is also a bilirubin blanket which can be used. This is a fiber optic blanket, cable connector and a light generating box. With the biliblanket, the use of eye covering may still be necessary. The biliblanket can be used at home but is cumbersome and must remain connected to an electrical outlet. The treatments are usually continued for 24 to 48 hours or longer.

We all know how important those first few days of a baby’s life are. It’s a time for the parents to bond with their new son or daughter and a time for parents and babies to start their new lives together. Parents are urged to hold their babies as much as possible. This is even more important for premature babies who benefit from “kangaroo care” in which the infants are held skin-to-skin with a parent for as many hours as possible every day.

But when the baby is being treated for jaundice in the hospital, he or she is taken out of the bili bed only for changing and feeding.  Even the biliblanket used at home has its limitations in terms of those all-important first few days of parents and babies getting to know one another.

Three Michigan State University undergrads, Oliver Bloom, Alexa Jones and Vu Huong, all majoring in biomedical systems, partnered in creating a new treatment for jaundice, which not only makes it easier to parents to hold their new baby but also doesn’t require covering the baby’s eyes. Called a SnugLit Portable Phototherapy Blanket, it promotes bonding, creates less stress for parent and child and allows for easier breastfeeding. The company formed to develop this product and others is called TheraB and is part of Spartan Innovations, a business and technology incubator affiliated with Michigan State University. The three students have graduated and moved on but are still a big part of the development and eventual manufacture and marketing of this new product.

Ryan Jankovic , CEO of the fledgling company who works out of the offices of Spartan Innovations, says, “Our three students talked with healthcare professionals in the area to gather opinions about better treatments for jaundice than is currently available. They found that both parents and medical professionals were not particularly happy with treatment options.”

He continues, “They began to develop their product and seek funding. Their first $1,000 came from The Hatch, a part of Spartan Innovations which allows to students to compete for funding.  They continued to participate in other competitions created to fund new ideas and were awarded more funding.”

Jankovic knows of what he speaks when he talks about the frustration and helplessness of parents whose child is being treated. His oldest son was born with jaundice and was treated with the use of a biliblanket. He was treated for five days at home. Jankovic says, “I remember how that felt. We had to sit close to the outlet, and we couldn’t take the baby out of the room without moving the equipment and re-connecting.”

He continues, “What the students came up with was a much more portable device which does have to be charged but doesn’t need to be plugged in all the time. It just wraps around the baby and provides all the light necessary. We’re looking at ways to use different intensities for the SnugLit depending on the needs of the child.”

Using this new product will create an all-around better experience for both parents and babies.

TheraB is preparing to submit their plans to the FDA. They are working to develop the final prototype and are talking to manufacturers who have the capability of producing this medical device. The plan is to submit their materials to the FDA by the end of the year and have the product on the market sometime in 2016.

Spartan Innovations fosters young entrepreneurs and guides them through the difficult process of development, funding, production and marketing.

Plans are that SnugLit, once manufactured, will be rolled out locally in Lansing area hospitals. Like the biliblanket, it will be available for use in the hospital or at home. Expense will preclude purchase by parents; instead the SnugLit will be “prescribed” by healthcare professionals. Eventually, the product will be introduced to the wider market.

For more information on TheraB, visit their website at www.therabmedical.com. Information on Spartan Innovations can be accessed at www.spartaninnovations.org.

About the Author

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grand Rapids. A Michigan native and Michigan State University grad, she enjoys reading, travel, politics and volunteering.