Babies born with jaundice begin their lives in an incubator, receiving irradiation with a blue shortwave light to counter toxic decomposition products of the blood pigment hemoglobin deposited in their skin. It’s hardly the way parents want their newborn babies to start out—alone, naked and with their eyes covered for protection.
Researchers at the Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles Division of Empa, the Swiss materials science and technology institute, have developed a prototype of a child-friendly alternative—illuminated pajamas that provide the healing light, replacing treatment in an incubator. Best of all, parents can hold and care for their baby during treatment.
The research team, led by Luciano Boesel, created illuminated textiles by weaving optically conductive fibers together with conventional thread. Battery-operated LEDs serve as a light source for the light-conducting threads.
The scientists determined the angle at which the threads must be bent during weaving so the blue light stays in a therapeutic wavelength range but is emitted onto the baby’s skin, rather than staying in the fabric. The process produced a comfortable satin material in which the optical threads had particularly few cross points with the traditional thread, bent in a way that distributed the light supply uniformly over the skin.
The illuminated textile can be made into pajamas or a sleeping bag to fully clothe the tiny patient. Because the clothing radiates light inward only, the baby’s eyes are not at risk, making the protective mask unnecessary. For more information, visit www.empa.ch.