Using Graphical System Design to Rapidly Develop a Low-Cost Device for Helping Premature Infants Learn to Oral Feed

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"With National Instruments LabVIEW and NI CompactRIO, we were able to reduce our development cost by $250,000. In addition, we were able to reduce our development time from four months to four weeks, and avoid the necessity of developing custom control software and drivers"

- Daryl Farr, KC BioMediX Inc.

The Challenge:
Helping premature infants learn how to coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing for oral feeding to greatly increase their chances for survival.

The Solution:
Creating a device that helps premature babies learn to oral feed while allowing doctors and nurses to accurately assess the baby’s feeding ability.

Author(s):
Daryl Farr - KC BioMediX Inc.
Kenny Aron - KC BioMediX Inc

Up to one-third of the more than 600,000 premature infants born in the United States each year have feeding problems when their brains struggle to coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing. Infants born prematurely often spend weeks, and sometimes months, with tubes taped to their faces or wearing masks to help them breathe. This hinders them from learning how to eat at a critically important stage of brain development.

KC BioMediX, a start-up medical device company based in Shawnee, Kansas developed a product called the NTrainer System to help premature babies learn to oral feed and greatly increase their chances for survival. The device is essentially a computerized pacifier that makes the pacifier tip pulse with gentle bursts of air. Doctors or nurses can use the device to get a far more accurate assessment of a baby’s feeding ability, and then begin therapy to help the baby learn to suck. 

Research studies have demonstrated that the NTrainer System therapy actually trains the brains of premature infants, accelerating their ability to eat without feeding tubes and, thereby, boosting their chances to survive. The company’s leaders and the scientist who invented the technology contend this is a vast improvement over previous methods of placing a gloved finger in a baby’s mouth.

NTrainer System Design

Initially, at KC BioMediX, we began our design process using a custom embedded solution and worked with a third-party company to commercialize the treatment. When it became clear that the cost was too high, we decided to bring the development in house.

In only three weeks, our lead software engineer used LabVIEW graphical development software and CompactRIO hardware to create a proof of concept demonstrating the ability of CompactRIO to replace the custom embedded solution. We developed the software architecture using the LabVIEW Real-Time, LabVIEW FPGA, and LabVIEW Statechart modules. For the first round of commercial devices, we deployed the systems using CompactRIO. For high-volume deployment, we  are using NI Single-Board RIO to create a more cost-effective device while fully maintaining our software development investment.

With LabVIEW and CompactRIO, we were able to reduce our development cost by $250,000. In addition, we were able to reduce our development time from four months to four weeks, and avoid the necessity of developing custom control software and drivers.

Author Information:
Daryl Farr
KC BioMediX Inc.
23733 West 83rd Terrace
Shawnee, KS 66227
United States
Tel: 913-742-4456
bprice@kcbiomedix.com

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