New device improves nutrition for premature babies

17.08.2022 Very low-birth-weight babies account for 1.5% of all births. These babies need highly fortified food for the first two to three months of their lives. A device intended to increase the protein content in human milk through a simple process is currently being developed as part of an Innosuisse project.

Newborns with a very low birth weight – less than 1500g – account for 1.5% of all births and need to be cared for in the intensive care unit. If they are to develop properly, they must have a diet with a very high protein content. Ordinary breast milk is not sufficient in this respect and has to be additionally fortified. These ‘fortifiers’ are either based on human milk, which makes them very expensive, or on cow’s milk, which is less well tolerated by newborns. A new type of device now aims to make it possible to fortify human milk right where the patient is, in the hospital. A functional model of this device, the Babylat Enricher, is being developed in a new Innosuisse research project. The project is a collaboration between the start-up Babylat, scientists from the Institute for Human Centered Engineering (HuCE) at Bern University of Applied Sciences (BFH), the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland and University Hospital Zurich.

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Very low-birth-weight babies need highly fortified food for the first two to three months of their lives.

Fortifier from the mother's milk

The Babylat Enricher is designed as a compact, fully automated device that can provide the protein-rich fortifier from human milk directly at the point of care – in the hospital or at donor milk banks. The fortifier is then used to enrich the milk. The objective is to improve the availability of preparations made from human milk and, as far as possible, to enable infants to be fed right there and then with their own mother’s milk. On-site preparation can also significantly reduce the cost of human milk-based products and exclude third parties from the preparation process. This also resolves ethical concerns, as products of human origin are not marketed.

Two HuCE laboratories are involved in the project: researchers from the Laboratory for Sensor Technology and Applied Mathematics are responsible for the development of the device as well as process monitoring. Researchers from the Optics Laboratory are developing the sensors that are being used to continuously measure the protein content of the milk during the process.

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