Baby bubbler could help cut infant mortality

Students at Rice University, Texas have developed a device dubbed the Baby Bubbler which is designed to help children with acute respiratory infections breathe naturally as they recover.

Figures from the World Health Organization suggest that around 20 per cent of deaths in children under five are caused by acute lower respiratory infections and that 90 per cent of those deaths are caused by pneumonia.

Rice’s global health team recognized the need for a portable device for infants that can be taken to countries lacking resources for medical equipment.

‘Our device is not a replacement for a ventilator – it’s a respiratory support device,’ said Heather Machen, who advised the students. ‘Unlike a ventilator, a patient must be able to breathe on his or her own. With the use of CPAP, many children will be able to recover without a ventilator.’

The Baby Bubbler – which also has the more formal designation of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device – has two main components, said Michael Pandya, who helped develop it.

One component, a flow generator, pumps air through a tube and allows clinicians to add oxygen if needed. The tube goes from the generator to the infant, who breathes through nasal prongs, and then to the second component, a water bottle that serves as a regulator.

‘The pressure level to the patient can be changed by adjusting the depth of water in the bottle,’ Pandya said.

An alarm to detect backflow of water into the line warns doctors if the circuit loses pressure.

‘It’s a simple design, but it’s incredibly important in developing countries where the nurse-to-patient ratio is sometimes one nurse for 40 or so patients,’ he said.

Members of the Baby Bubbler team also included Jocelyn Brown, Joseph Chang, Haruka Maruyama, and Katie Schnelle.

Prototypes, which cost about $140 to make, will travel with students this summer as part of Rice’s global health initiative, Beyond Traditional Borders. They will be demonstrated in Malawi and Lesotho, the first step toward clinical testing.