High-Tech Pacifier Could Help Preemies

When James Hubert was born two months early, his mom, Kelly, was concerned. She wasn't sure whether he'd have problems with his development.

A team from University of Kansas Hospital could help her find out. They've put young James on the front lines of research into the Actifier.

Developmental Speech Physiologist Lana Seibel described the Actifier as a pacifier hooked up to pressure lines and a computer. It measures the baby's non-nutritive suck pattern and the muscle activity around the mouth. Researchers believe those patterns could indicate subtle brain injuries in preemies.

Seibel said researchers are hoping the Actifier will pick up slight problems you wouldn't usually see until a child is two years old, things like a speech - language or cognitive problem or language disorders. Seibel said right now doctors take a wait and see attitude in pinpointing such problems.

Besides measuring the baby's own sucking pattern, the Actifier can also be used to apply pressure to get babies to mimic a normal sucking pattern. Seibel said the hope there is better feeding and earlier discharge from the hospital.

The National Institutes of Health is funding the research for the next three years on more than 300 infants. If researchers are right, the Actifier will boost babies' IQs and head off developmental disabilities.

Dr. Steven Barlow at KU invented the Actifier and is heading up the study.

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