MIT Team Prototypes Warming Mattress for Firefly

MIT Mechanical Engineer Rachel McDermott explains the results of testing five different mattress materials for transparency and how fast they heat up and then cool down. Video courtesy MIT 2.009.

A team of more than twenty students from the MIT 2.009 capstone mechanical engineering course has accepted DtM’s Otter Project challenge to keep premature newborns warm during treatment with Firefly phototherapy

Firefly is currently used to treat otherwise healthy jaundiced newborns. Now we want to find a way to treat even the tiniest newborns who require more than a blanket or a warm room to fight infection and grow. 

MIT Mechanical Engineers Cliodhna McCarthy, Kristen Zimmerman, and Eduardo Bacardi display their sketch models. Left: a mini incubator with hair dryer as heat source. Right: a resistive wire as found inside typical home heating pads.

In only several weeks, the team has already created and tested warming prototypes including blowing warm air, a radiant bulb, and a resistive wire. They have also tested five transparent materials that could fill a soft yet wipeable newborn mattress. These materials allow most of the phototherapy light to pass through enabling warming and jaundice treatment at the same time! Some of the mattress materials also stay warm for up to an hour after the warmer is unplugged.

A newborn receiving IV fluids and oxygen at St Boniface Hospital in Haiti. 

Prematurity is the world’s leading cause of death for children under five. 80% of these premature newborns are born at 32 weeks gestation or later, requiring only simple interventions to stay alive. Most importantly, these tiny babies need help keeping warm so they can focus their energies on growing and fighting off infection during their earliest days of life. The team’s progress shows promise for the warmer’s use with other treatments beyond Firefly such as oxygen, continuous positive airway pressure, and during resuscitation in the delivery room.

The challenge was inspired in part by our experiences visiting hospitals in Haiti with St Boniface Haiti Foundation and Partners in Health. Monica Terez, Nurse and Head of the OSU Greif Neonatal Survival Program commented, 

“Honestly, one of the biggest issues we have, and where you could have enormous impact, is in newborn warming. This would save lives at this hospital. Hypothermia is a real problem. When we use an unregulated heating pad, we are essentially creating problems where there were none. The doctor thinks there is a fever, then provides antibiotics. Providing safe newborn warming will provide all diagnosticians better data to make truly lifesaving decisions.” 

MIT students Isaac Sosa, Kristen Zimmerman, Joanna So, and Eduardo Bacardi visit DtM to see the MIT 2.009 team’s Kinkajou Projector (forefront), and to learn about the successes and failures of DtM’s NeoNurture Infant Incubator (right).

We expect great things given our long history working with MIT 2.009. A team from MIT 2.009 designed the original DtM Kinkajou Microfilm Projector that has enabled thousands of adults to learn to read in nighttime classes in Mali. We look forward to the final presentations on December 8 in the sold-out thousand-person Kresge Auditorium.