Researchers at the Oregon State University College of Engineering have developed a microfluidic photoreactor that is intended to treat severe cases of neonatal jaundice. Jaundice is caused by an excess of a pigment called bilirubin, which can be difficult to excrete due to underlying conditions in many neonates. In severe cases, newborns may need multiple blood transfusions, which is resource and labor intensive, and can come with risks. This system could help avoid such procedures, and involves passing the blood of the newborn through a microfluidic device, where an LED helps to break the bilirubin down into more easily excreted substances.
Neonatal jaundice is relatively common, and the majority of infants will be fine with little or minimal treatment. However, in severe cases, the condition can cause neurological damage and can even lead to death. In such serious cases, clinicians will treat the condition by replacing newborn blood with donor blood. However, it is necessary to conduct the transfusion procedure twice, making it time consuming, and a little risky.
In an effort to develop a safer and more convenient alternative, these researchers have designed a device that can break down bilirubin, the pigment in the blood that is responsible for the jaundice. The technique involves passing the blood of the patient through a microfluidic device that contains a high-intensity LED, which causes the bilirubin to break down into more excretable components.
The technique is similar to another method used to treat jaundice called whole-body phototherapy, where light is applied to the skin. However, as the new technology directly illuminates the blood itself, it is more targeted and efficient. So far, the researchers have tested the photoreactor with bilirubin-rich human blood on the lab bench, and in a rat model.
“The findings demonstrate that high-intensity light at a wavelength of 470 nanometers can be used to quickly reduce bilirubin levels without causing any appreciable damage to the blood cells’ DNA,” said Adam Higgins, a researcher involved in the study, in a press release. “Our work with Gunn rats showed that photoreactor treatment for four hours significantly pared down bilirubin levels – similar to the kind of bilirubin reduction seen in exchange transfusion and on a similar time scale. The mathematical model we developed suggests this new treatment approach that we tested at lab scale will perform better than exchange transfusion at the clinical scale, and it requires no donor blood.”
The researchers plan to scale the photoreactor up so that it can be used with human patients. “But overall, it looks like further development of the photoreactor technology can potentially bring a promising new approach for treating extremely high levels of bilirubin in newborns’ blood,” said Higgins.
Study in Biomicrofluidics: Microfluidic photoreactor to treat neonatal jaundice