Bringing Mom’s Voice to Babies in the NICU

The Problem

Babies born prematurely or with other complications spend an average of 100 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). And while families and parents are encouraged to spend as much time as possible with their children, daily responsibilities often interfere, and many babies go most of the day without parental contact.  

Bereft of parental involvement – notably, their mother’s voice  – children can experience developmental delays in speech, reading and motor skills unrelated to their initial medical problems. Dr. Nathalie Maitre, a neonatologist and developmental specialist, and director of the NICU Follow-up Program and NICU Music Therapy Program at Nationwide Children's Hospital, was looking for a way to give that vital voice stimulus to babies in the NICU.

She did so initially with the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, creating a small, ovoid speaker that could be placed within a baby’s NICU isolette. Although the hospital had the capability to create these prototypes, the Research Institute needed a more advanced speaker to test the solution as development progressed.

The Expert

Mary Hoffman Pancake, the program manager for The Ohio State University’s College of Engineering, Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME), had the researchers and capabilities needed to complete the design and manufacture of a new device. CDME provides applied research for product design, technology commercialization and manufacturing for industry.

First, the CDME design took on the shape of an egg with a flat bottom to better sit within the isolettes. And using high resolution 3D printers at CDME, it now had a completely smooth outer “shell,” making the device much stronger and easier to clean.

Additionally, CDME designers added induction charging capabilities, slightly altered the speaker technology and introduced a custom-printed circuit board that could be more securely fastened inside the device. They also gave it a medical-grade silicon sleeve for durability and sanitization.

The Solution

Dr. Maitre and her team at the Research Institute dubbed the new device the Dino Egg. Using an intuitive mobile app, nurses help mothers record snippets of speech  – nursery rhymes, songs, stories and baby conversation  – which is then loaded via Bluetooth to the Dino Egg. Research-based algorithms control when and how long those recordings are played.

To help bring the Dino Egg to market, the Research Institute spun out Thrive Neuromedical, which is expanding the products and capabilities around the Dino Egg and other developmental science for babies. The company has received seed funding and is working with Nationwide Children’s to license the Dino Egg technology.