Phototherapy, a remarkably effective way to solve infantile jaundice, can be improved with blue LEDs instead of fluorescent bulbs.
One of the products on display at this year's Open Minds Exhibition is Brilliance, a Stanford team's solution for infantile jaundice in developing countries. Phototherapy is remarkably effective for this potentially devastating problem, but it is quite costly and not very accessible to most of the population in developing countries, such as India. The team uses high-intensity blue LEDs to provide the effective therapy in lieu of the more costly and less efficient fluorescent tubes/bulbs.
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The Stanford team has been working with non-profit technology incubator Design Revolution (D-Rev) to help it commercialize the system.
We had a chance to speak with Krista Donaldson from the team to learn more.
What led your team to decide to tackle this particular challenge?
Ben Cline, a D-Rev staff member, had discussed the need for affordable phototherapy devices with a doctor at a medical device conference. Ben became fascinated with jaundice -- that even though it is so easy to treat, newborns still suffer brain damage and death in many parts of the world.
Working with D-Rev colleagues and partners, Ben visited several dozen hospitals in India and Nigeria, assessing the availability of effective phototherapy. They found that a vast majority of hospitals in these areas either do not have functioning phototherapy devices -- or have devices that do not meet standards for care.
What's the make-up of your team?
The core team includes engineers, designers, business analysts, and development professionals. The common background of everyone is experience in design and with design-thinking. We also have an incredible set of expert advisors such as Dr. Vinod Bhutani and Dr. Henk Vreman of Stanford Medical School, and Dr. Neelam Kler of Sri Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi.
What kind of infrastructure is currently available for infants with jaundice in India given that it's such a common problem?
Severe jaundice affects approximately nine percent of babies in the West, and as high as 14 percent in low-resource areas. Many clinics do not have phototherapy devices, and if they do, the devices are often not effective. We often hear reports, such as those from Dr. Praveen Kumar of Post Graduate Institute in Chandigarh, of babies being referred to another hospital for treatment despite having already been treated at rural hospitals. Jaundice is time sensitive and not simple to diagnosis. So you can imagine the challenge for mothers who give birth at home, recognizing there is a problem -- and then seeking treatment which may be hours or even days away.
The most recent American Academy of Pediatrics standards specifies the irradiance (intensity) as well as the wavelength for effective phototherapy treatment. Brilliance meets both of these American Academy of Pediatrics standards and provides comparable performance to top phototherapy devices used in U.S. hospitals.
Based on your estimates, what sort of cost savings would there be for an infant being treated with your LED system vs. the current standard therapy?
The current standard treatment, where it exists, is phototherapy with compact fluorescent lights (CFL). These phototherapy devices last three to five months depending on how often the unit is used, while the LEDs in Brilliance are rated up to five years. CFL-based devices are also less efficient than LED phototherapy devices. Looking just at the cost of bulb replacements and electricity, we estimate that CFL-based devices cost $165 per year, whereas Brilliance would cost less than $25 per year.
What is the biggest obstacle you have faced so far trying to make this concept a reality?
Raising the funds to complete product design and bring Brilliance to market. There seems to be two challenges -- first, funding agencies tend to prefer the early stages of product development. The other challenge is the belief that jaundice is not a big enough problem -- that there are more life threatening problems that newborns face. There is no question that mothers, newborns, and families face significant challenges in low-resource areas. Yet at medical conferences, hospitals, and clinics, we repeatedly hear about the need for affordable, effective, and environmentally-appropriate phototherapy treatment.
This post also appears on medGadget, an Atlantic partner site.