Photo of Juan Sebastián Osorio

Biotechnology & medicine

Juan Sebastián Osorio

Monitors specially designed for premature infants help detect breathing problems <br>

Year Honored

Antioquia School of Engineering and CES University


Nearly 85 percent of babies born before 34 weeks stop breathing for 20 seconds or more, often because their undeveloped nervous systems fail to signal their lungs. That can be fatal. The babies are typically hooked up to monitors, but sometimes the systems fail to sound the alarm—and Juan Sebastián Osorio discovered why.

Osorio, then a biomedical-­engineering student with the Antioquia School of Engineering and CES University in Medellín, Colombia, realized that the sensors used on the infants were poorly adapted to their small size. Electrodes are placed on either side of the infant’s chest to watch for stoppages in motion. But the tiny chests move so little that the monitor can mistake heartbeats for breathing motions long after respiration has stopped.

Osorio and colleagues came up with a prototype detector attuned to the rhythms of infant physiology. The monitor combines heart rate recordings, electrical signals from the diaphragm muscle, and blood oxygen measurements for a potentially more precise and reliable way to measure a baby’s breathing. Eventually the device could predict the risk of apnea by analyzing the measurements along with information about the baby’s weight and gestational age. Osorio says that could help hospitals discharge low-risk babies earlier, saving costs and sparing the babies from extended ICU stays.

Osorio is testing his system and seeking to license it commercially. He’s integrating it with a mobile-phone app he developed that helps parents recognize signs of risk for sudden infant death syndrome. Next he plans to couple his detector with a video camera to make it easier for parents to monitor babies at high risk for apnea. If a problem comes up, the system will connect to pediatricians remotely.

Courtney Humphries