Breast milk boosted to meet each preterm baby’s needs
One baby in 10 is born prematurely, according to WHO figures. In Europe, preterm birth is one of the two leading causes of neonatal mortality and can also result in long-term health issues such as asthma, diabetes, as well as visual and hearing problems. It is associated with a total yearly cost of EUR 20 billion for the European healthcare system. Nutrition plays a crucial role in preventing disease by supporting early growth and development. While breast milk is the ideal nutrition for any infant, it often does not cover a preterm infant’s nutritional needs, explains Isabel de Oliveira Correa, CEO of Tellspec: “As human milk is highly variable in nutrient content, personalised or targeted fortification is recommended in order to prevent undernourishment.”
Breast milk made to measure
To provide prematurely born babies with the nutrients they require, her company developed a solution that will make it possible to fortify human milk taking its composition and the child’s nutritional needs into account. Thanks to the EU-funded Preemie project, they were able to develop an ecosystem for personalising and tracking the nutrition of each infant, thereby reducing preterm health risks. The portable and easy-to-use testing system is based on a sensor that analyses the results in just a few seconds through dedicated software running on a tablet. The sensor, an NIR-spectrometer supported by AI, scans the milk. The AI engine in the cloud then analyses nutritional content such as fat, protein, carbohydrates and energy. “Based on the results, the system automatically suggests the fortification needed based on the needs of the preterm infant. It also enables personnel at neonatal units to track the nutritional intake over time and correlate it with an infant’s growth, in order to help prescribe the next fortification,” De Oliveira Correa says.
A boost for donor milk
The Preemie system will benefit not only medical staff and their patients, but also human milk banks that need to receive fast and accurate information about donor milk composition. The process will make it easier to track information along the milk supply chain with the help of blockchain technology, improving transparency, traceability and safety. A cost-benefit analysis revealed that the system helps decrease the overall cost of care for very low birth weight infants. It also saves up to 40 % of the time needed for operators to scan compared to current solutions. “The Preemie system is expected to have a breakthrough impact on clinical outcomes for the infants, by reducing the prevalence of key diseases and long-term disorders. It will support neonatologists in taking data-driven decisions, reducing human error and making the whole process more efficient,” De Oliveira Correa remarks.
Data-driven neonatal care
The Preemie team is now working on making the system available to hospitals and milk banks. The EU-funded project enabled them to file four patents and three trademarks; the next steps include finalising the certification, signing distribution agreements and attracting new funding. The design awards received as a result of the project provide further arguments to present to investors. Looking ahead, De Oliveira Correa hopes to take the contribution her team can make to neonatal healthcare further: “Leveraging the expertise and infrastructure developed during the Preemie project, we aim to tap into large clinical data sets to provide unique insights for enhanced neonatal healthcare.”
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