Beyond the Pitch
Thrive Neuromedical Helps Preemie Baby Brain Development
It’s a scientific fact: Babies need to hear their mother’s voice.
From soothing a baby in stress to helping form neural connections in the baby’s brain that are the foundation for language and speech, multiple scientific studies show the power of a mother’s voice. When an infant is deprived of his mother’s voice, neural development is interrupted and sometimes impaired.
Thrive Neuromedical, an Ohio-based spinout of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, is developing a system to enrich the neurological development of babies who don’t have regular, consistent access to their mother’s voice. The system is based on scientific research by Nathalie Maitre, MD, Ph.D., director of the neonatal intensive care unit follow-up clinic at Children’s Memorial Hospital.
The first “users” of the technology are premature babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICU). About one in ten babies in the U.S. are born early. Virtually all of them spend time in the NICU.
“The NICU is an amazing place where medical professionals rescue babies that might not otherwise live and where they make changes that may make life-long improvements in the new baby’s life,” said Dean Koch, Thrive Neuromedical CEO.
The downside of the NICU is that babies are separated from their families in conditions that are, understandably, tightly controlled. Sometimes NICU stays end after a few days. For other conditions, babies may have to stay for weeks or months.
Overcoming the neural impact of baby-mom separation with mom’s voice
Parents are encouraged to visit the NICU and their babies as often as possible, but for as much as they might long to be there, many aspects of the situation make it challenging, especially as time wears on.
There’s the mom’s recovery, care of other siblings, job demands, and the physical distance between the hospital and the family’s home, not to mention financial pressures. In fact, only about 20 percent of the babies in the NICU receive daily visits from their moms.
“Compare this experience to the baby who goes home with her mother to a quiet environment,” Koch said. “She sees her mom every couple of hours for a feeding. The mother talks to the baby—it’s called infant directed speech—and the crucial neural connections that help the baby begin to differentiate speech from noise start to develop.”
The Thrive Neuromedical system, designed specifically to operate in the NICU, brings the neurological power of the mother’s voice to the infant in a safe, enriching manner. Babies in incubators can hear their mothers talk.
Here’s how it works
Using an interactive, touch screen application with proprietary algorithms, a nurse or therapist in the NICU or maternity area helps a mother pre-record segments of infant-direct speech, nursery rhymes, and stories that are selected to emphasize the tones and sounds that create neural connections in the baby’s brain.
The mom’s recordings are then looped into a 20-minute audio file that is transmitted to a little speaker, that looks like a dinosaur egg, and in fact is named the Dino Egg™. It is specifically designed to be placed directly in the incubator with the baby.
The decibel range is mechanically limited, so the sound cannot damage a baby’s ears. It has no moving parts, no holes, and a disposable cover to provide softness designed not to trouble the baby’s skin, and to meet the strict infection control requirements of the modern NICU. The recording is played several times a day when the baby is wakeful, with the frequency depending on other clinical parameters as well.
“Everyone wants happy, healthy babies. There is a lot of great and necessary medical work that happens in NICUs, including focusing on developmental challenges that these babies may face,” said Koch. “Thrive is in a great spot for blazing a new trail to help offset some of the neurological impact that can affect preemies while they are in the NICU.”
Based in science, delivered with heart
“We selected the name Thrive because that’s the common goal,” Koch said. “We all want our babies and children to thrive. We selected Neuromedical because we are a science-based company. Through non-invasive brain imaging, researchers have been able to show the positive impact a mother’s voice has on an infant’s ability to differentiate language from noise.”
Thrive Neuromedical is already developing additional ways to apply the Dino Egg and the power of the mother’s voice to help the baby.
“We are working on using this platform for feeding issues and other neurological speaking and language issues,” Koch said. “We have a home version and a product pipeline for consumer and other applications.”
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