Berkeley Lab awarded honorable mention in 2020 Patents for Humanity for ‘DreamWarmer’

Photo of Ashok Gadgil and Vi Rapp
From left to right: Ashok Gadgil, Vi Rapp

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The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has secured an honorable mention from the United States Patent and Trademark Office in the 2020 Patents for Humanity awards for its development of newborn infant warming technology.

Co-researchers Vi Rapp and Ashok Gadgil said in a joint email statement that the warming technology works as a temperature indicator by using a special wax that changes from liquid to solid at selected temperatures. The warming pad, also known as the DreamWarmer, has just completed a third round of testing in Rwanda facilitated by Global Newborn Solutions, or GNS.

“Hypothermia contributes to the death of roughly 1 million babies around the world,” said GNS founder and CEO Anne Hansen. “In these low-resource settings there are little to no incubators and babies are often put on cold surfaces.”

Hansen added that hypothermia can also stunt the growth of newborns.

Babies with hypothermia are using so much energy to stay as warm as possible that they don’t have much left over to focus on growing at a normal rate, according to Hansen.

“This was something that was really new to me,” Hansen said. “I started working with Berkeley Lab to develop a very intuitive, simple, low cost, reusable, nonelectric warmer that could be used in these low-resource settings.”

Rapp and Gadgil credit a separate team of scientists and engineers at Berkeley Lab with designing and patenting an initial design of the warming mat. The team comprising Jonathan Slack, Mike Elam, Roger Sathre and Howdy Goudey, with technical advice from Ashok Gadgil, created an initial infant warming mat that used a liquid crystal indicator instead of wax. Initial testing of this design in Rwanda, however, demonstrated that the pilot device had a brief use period.

After clinical trials of the initial design, Rapp and Gadgil redesigned the warming mat to use a wax indicator that lasts longer and enables mass automated manufacturing.

Since then, GNS has completed three rounds of testing in partnership with the Rwanda Ministry of Health, which have demonstrated no adverse events in 204 uses.

“The vast majority of babies stayed warm or attained a normal temperature,” Hansen said. “The Ministry of Health wanted to be positive in its effectiveness and to their credit, they insisted on a true randomized control trial.”

Leana Silverberg, director of GNS, emphasized the user-friendliness of the indicator, stating that all one needs to do is boil the wax mattress for 15-30 minutes. She added that the mattress will then change from a liquid to a solid when at body temperature and it stays in that state for up to six hours.

While skin-to-skin care is the best intervention to prevent newborn hypothermia, Hansen said it is not always sufficient or possible. According to Hansen, the DreamWarmer is intended to be a complement to skin-to-skin care.

“For many decades we have talked out newborn survival but we want to move beyond that and be sure that they are not just saved from dying but are enabled to reach full potential and thrive,” Hansen said. “We feel that the DreamWarmer will be important in that it will allow them to go grow and reach potential.”

Contact Matt Brown at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @maattttbrown .