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Infant Apnea Prevention

In the United States, about 500,000 babies, or one in eight, are born prematurely each year. Many of them suffer from apnea of prematurity -- a condition in which babies stop breathing for at least 10 seconds as they sleep -- and related complications such as hypoxia, which causes insufficient oxygen supply to their tissues. Apnea and hypoxia in premature infants can cause multi-organ damage, developmental delay, and lifelong cognitive deficits, and they represent a major public-health problem. Current apnea and hypoxia therapies, such as caffeine treatment and vigorous manual stimulation, are not always effective. A reliable medical device is badly needed to address these problems.

The Wyss Institute Solution

A multi-disciplinary team of scientists, clinicians and engineers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Boston University  and the Wyss Institute have developed a versatile, intelligent technology that can inhibit and possibly prevent infant apnea in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) and, in the future, for infants at home. The technology consists of an active mattress that senses the cardio-respiratory function of the infant and hardware and software that can help predict when apnea or hypoxia may occur.

The mattress is based on the principle of "stochastic resonance" (SR). This is a counterintuitive phenomenon in which the application of a small amount of "noise" to a complex biological system, such as the human body, increases the sensitivity of that system. In this case, the mattress provides gentle vibration to the baby's body (well below the baby's head). This has been shown to promote stable respiration without changing sleep state or waking the infant, and can prevent dangerous apneic and hypoxic events from occurring.

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Relevant Publication(s):

Bloch-Salisbury E, Indic P, Bednarek F, Paydarfar D. Stabilizing immature breathing patterns of preterm infants using stochastic mechanosensory stimulation. J Appl Physiol 2009 Oct;107(4):1017–1027.

Williamson JR, Bliss DW, Browne DW, Indic P, Bloch-Salisbury E, Paydarfar D. Using physiological signals to predict apnea in preterm infants. In: Signals, Systems and Computers (ASILOMAR), 2011 Conference Record of the Forty Fifth Asilomar Conference on. 2011 p. 1098 –1102.

Indic P, Paydarfar D, Barbieri R. A point process model of respiratory dynamics in early physiological development. Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc 2011;2011:3804–3807. PMID: 2225516

Williamson JR, Bliss DW, Paydarfar D. Forecasting respiratory collapse: Theory and practice for averting life-threatening infant apneas. Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2013 Nov 1; 189(2):223-31.

James R. Williamson, Daniel W. Bliss, David W. Browne, Premananda Indic, Elisabeth Bloch-Salisbury, David Paydarfar: Individualized apnea prediction in preterm infants using cardio-respiratory and movement signals. BSN 2013: 1-6

Premananda Indic, David Paydarfar, Riccardo Barbieri: Point Process Modeling of Interbreath Interval: A New Approach for the Assessment of Instability of Breathing in Neonates. IEEE Trans. Biomed. Engineering 60(10): 2858-2866 (2013)

Note: The technologies described on this page are currently in the research and development phase and are not available commercially. Any suggested or implied claims have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


Andy Levine
Business Development Lead - Medical Devices/Robotics
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University





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