Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Jaundice in the spotlight

Babies with severe jaundice can now be successfully treated within hours rather than days thanks to a new phototherapy system that supplies light at exactly the right wavelength. As the system can be used in an incubator, it limits the time that mother and newborn have to be a...
Babies with severe jaundice can now be successfully treated within hours rather than days thanks to a new phototherapy system that supplies light at exactly the right wavelength. As the system can be used in an incubator, it limits the time that mother and newborn have to be apart.

Background

At birth, all babies have an excess of red blood cells that are broken down into the pigment bilirubin during the first two weeks of life. This process occurs naturally in the liver but as this organ is still immature, even in full-term newborns, its inability to cope with all the bilirubin can result in a mild jaundice that usually clears up quickly without treatment. However, if there is a blood group incompatibility between child and mother - in the rhesus or ABO blood type systems, for example - the rate of red cell destruction is high and the concentration of pigment in the blood can rise to dangerous levels.

Treatment normally involves phototherapy - the baby is placed under lamps that emit light across the whole spectrum (IR-visible-UV). The light breaks down bilirubin in the skin, converting it into a form that can pass out of the body in the urine. Currently, phototherapy takes two to three days and restricts close contact and bonding between mother and child. In addition, babies with severe jaundice also need regular blood transfusions.

Working partnerships

In 1992, with 20 years of experience working on phototherapy equipment behind him, Lucien Gysens formed Medestime SA in Belgium. One of Gysens' long-held ambitions was to develop an improved phototherapy system and in 1995 he began to work with the specialist Professor A Sender, Head of the Haemobiology Immunobiology Unit in Paris. They collaborated to define the parameters for a new phototherapy system using light with a wavelength measuring between 400 and 700 nanometres.

With the help of EU Innovation Relay Centre co-ordinators Jean-Claude Disneur and Gery Primosig of the Centre Relais Innovation de Wallonie (CRIW) and the local expert Bernard Lallemand, Gysens identified a specialist lamp manufacturer to design a lamp that could produce light of the right wavelength without causing excess heat which might provoke dehydration in a baby having treatment.

Description, impact and results

Collaborative research over the next ten months led to the production of the `Bilicrystal' prototype in 1996. Professor Sender has since tested it at the Saint Antoine Hospital in Paris. Sixteen newborn babies with severe jaundice received intensive phototherapy treatment via Bilicrystal. After three hours, 13 of the 16 showed an average reduction of 20-30% in bilirubin levels After a further three hours, a 40-50% reduction was observed and all infants were out of danger. The greater efficiency of this system compared with standard phototherapy techniques means that none of the babies in the trial had to undergo the trauma of a blood transfusion.


Source: European Commission, DG XIII/D.4 - Information and dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge
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