B.C.-developed robot simulates moms to reduce premature babies’ pain

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B.C. doctor developing comforting ‘robot’ for preemie
WATCH: B.C. researchers developing comforting 'robot' for preemie – Mar 21, 2019

Specialized hospital units that deal with the sickest newborn babies could soon have a new tool in their toolbox.

A group of British Columbia researchers has developed a new robot that could help soothe and comfort premature babies at BC Women’s Hospital.

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The device, developed by researchers from the University of British Columbia, British Columbia Institute of Technology and BC Women’s and Children’s hospitals simulates skin-to-skin contact, helping to reduce pain for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Newborns don’t respond well to pain medication, explains Liisa Holsti, Canada research chair in neonatal health and development and an occupational therapist with BC Women’s Hospital.

“Instead, we recommend maternal skin-to-skin holding on the chest for procedures like a blood test,” she said.

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That’s not always possible, which is where ‘Calmer,’ the new therapeutic robot, comes in.

The device simulates the sound of a mother’s heartbeat, breathing motion and the feel of human skin and Holsti said it can be set up to mimic a specific mom.

“If the mother’s [heart] rate is 70, we would program that in. If her breathing rate is 13, we would program that in,” she said.

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Early research suggests that the robot works. A study published this week in the journal Pain Reports found no difference between Calmer and a common skin-to-skin technique known as “hand hugging” when it came to signs of pain during blood collection.

Researchers worked with BCIT’s Centre for Applied Research and Innovation to design and build the device, which fits into a NICU incubator in place of the standard mattress.

-With files from Linda Aylesworth

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