A Digital Diaper for Tracking Children’s Health

ImageA screen shot from Pixie Scientific’s Web site, showing its diapers and accompanying smartphone app that can transmit certain health information to a physician.

Talk about changing with the times.

 

A New York start-up called Pixie Scientific has developed a diaper that the company says can detect possible urinary tract infections, kidney dysfunctions, and dehydration, accompanied by a smartphone app that can transmit the information to a physician.

 

“I was driving with my wife and daughter one day, when my wife asked if the baby had wet herself,” said Yaroslav Faybishenko, Pixie’s founder. “I realized she was sitting in data.”

 

Other so-called quantified self products have been developed for adults, like products from Jawbone and FitBit that create digital records of calorie expenditure and sleep habits. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, a Taiwanese company called AiQ showed off shirts that it said could measure things like heart rate and other biometric signals.

 

In contrast to those things, the technology behind the diaper is relatively simple, and it owes as much to the quality of smartphone cameras as it does to clever chemistry.

 

At the front of the diaper is a patch with several colored squares. Each square represents a different interaction with a protein, water content or bacteria, and changes color if it detects something is outside of normal parameters. There is also a neutral white square, to more easily check for color changes in the other squares.

 

A smartphone app takes a picture and can make precise readings of the chemical data based on  color changes. The data is uploaded to a central location, where physicians can get information about how the child is doing and whether the baby needs further testing.

 

The diaper is expected to be tested at Benioff Children’s Hospital of the University of California, San Francisco this September. Columbia University’s children’s hospital is considering a similar study. If successful, the product may then be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for final approval.

 

Mr. Faybishenko said he thought the diaper, which he said would cost about 30 percent more than regular diapers, had potential as a consumer product, for parents who want to keep regular tabs on their child’s health. Rather than overwhelming parents with data, the app is likely to let them know whether they should see a pediatrician for one or more possible conditions. With the parents’ permission, the detailed urine analysis data could be sent to a doctor’s office.

 

“You really don’t want to overload parents with data they don’t understand,” he said. “Eventually the quantified self idea will be mostly silent and unobtrusive, just something inside the existing flow of life.”

Mr. Faybishenko said the company was working on other tests, but would not specify what they were.

By QUENTIN HARDY

nytimes.com

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